The Devil’s Hole Gang Ride
(The Elizabeth Darkly series #4)
By Maz McCoy
Lom Trevor’s telegram, urging them to come to Porterville, had given them hope at a time when things had not been going well for Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Both men had recently suffered at the hands of the hot-tempered brothers of a young woman Kid had chosen to help. They had ridden out of the town of Valentine battered and bruised and with Kid promising to think twice before helping any young woman again. He didn’t tell Heyes he had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said it.
They arrived in Porterville early that morning and rode their horses into the centre of town. Tying the animals to a hitching rail, they approached the sheriff’s office. A light was on inside the jail and Heyes peered in the window. Lom Trevors was pouring himself a cup of coffee and looked up to see a dark-haired young man looking at him through the window. He smiled at Heyes and nodded towards the door. The ex-outlaw leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang entered the Porterville jail and held out his hand to his friend.
“Howdy Lom,” he said. Putting down the coffee pot, Lom shook the hand that was offered him. Lom was a tall man with dark hair and an equally dark moustache. It had been Sheriff Lom Trevors who had approached the Governor of Wyoming on their behalf to ask for amnesty for Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.
“Heyes, glad you could make it.” He turned to see Kid Curry on the stairs behind him. “Kid. Still sneaking up on me I see.”
“I will until you get a lock for that side door Lom,” the blond-haired man told him. He walked towards his friend and they shook hands. “Good to see you Lom.”
“You too Kid.”
“We got your telegram. D’you have news for us?” Heyes asked, hopefully, as he perched on the corner of the sheriff’s desk. The lawman looked from one man to the other.
“It’s not about your amnesty,” he told them and saw their faces drop. “I’m sorry boys, I should have made that clear.”
“So what did you want to see us about Lom?” Kid asked leaning against the wall, as he folded his arms across his chest. Lom sat down in his chair.
“I have a job for you,” he told them. Neither man spoke for a moment, waiting to hear more.
“What job?” Heyes finally prompted.
“A young woman requires the services of two reliable men. Men of good character, who are proficient with a gun and can be discreet.” Kid raised his eyebrows at Heyes.
“Does that sound like us Heyes?”
“Oh sure Kid,” his partner assured him. “To do what?” he asked the sheriff.
“Deliver some documents.”
“What’s so special about them?” Kid asked.
“Apparently, these documents are very valuable.”
“What aren’t you tellin’ us?” Heyes asked him, eyeing the sheriff suspiciously. Lom looked uncomfortable. He took a sip of his coffee and the partners waited patiently.
“The young woman requested you two by name. She said she’d heard I knew Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones and they were the men she needed for…” Kid was instantly at the window, his gun in his hand as he looked, nervously, out at the empty street. Heyes stood up, disappointed with Lom.
“Damn it Lom, that’s the oldest trick in the book for a bounty hunter!” Didn’t that make you suspicious? Her knowing you knew us?” The sheriff held up his hand.
“Now wait a minute boys, hear me out.” Heyes looked at his partner who shook his head, nothing suspicious outside. He moved to check the side exit. Lom watched him. Seeing just a momentary trace of fear on the young man’s face and then it was gone. “Kid it’s okay. She knows you two.” Both men looked at Lom.
“She knows us?” Heyes stated as Kid came to stand at his side. “Who is she Lom? What’s goin’ on?”
“Sit down boys,” neither man did. They remained alert, eyeing him cautiously. Lom decided to continue. “She came to see me, about a week ago. She told me she met you some months back and that you helped her. She needs your help again and although she had been trying to find you, she’d had no success. So she asked if I would help locate you and offer you the job. I know you can always use the money and a legal job at that, so I agreed to help.”
“She tells you she knows us and you believe her?” Heyes asked.
“Just like that?” Kid added.
“She described you as well as I could and told me Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Said she knew this because she and Heyes had been…” he searched for the right word. “Close.”
“Close?” Heyes asked and Lom nodded.
“Who you been close with Heyes?” Kid asked flippantly, smiling at his partner.
“Does this woman have a name?” Heyes asked, ignoring Kid.
“Victoria Kettering,” Lom told him.
“Never heard of her,” Heyes stated.
“Maybe she used a different name when you two were close,” Kid said, teasing him. Heyes shot him a look and Kid decided to let the matter drop for now.
“Look, she’s over at the hotel right now. Why don’t we go and see her and you can have all the answers you want?” the sheriff suggested.
“You two go on ahead,” Kid said. “I’ll join you there.” He slipped out the side door and Heyes knew he was going to scout around and see if anyone was watching the sheriff’s office or the hotel.
“I hope you know what you’re gettin’ us into Lom?” Heyes said as they left the lawman’s office. The sheriff placed a reassuring hand on his young friend’s back and they walked towards the hotel. Kid met them in the lobby.
“Okay?” Heyes asked.
“Seems so,” Kid replied. There was no one watching them, at least not that he could see. Heyes knew his partner had checked and no one was lying in wait for them. They made their way upstairs to Miss. Kettering’s room.
“Miss. Kettering?” Lom called, as he knocked on the door and a female voice answered.
“It’s Sheriff Trevors.” The door opened a fraction and a young woman looked out. She had blue eyes, pale skin and long brown hair that hung loose about her shoulders. She reminded Heyes of a school teacher he had once known. The young woman looked somewhat nervous, but smiled when she recognised Lom Trevors.
“Sheriff, please come in,” she said, standing to one side and the three men entered the room.
“Miss. Kettering,” Lom said, removing his hat. Heyes and Kid did the same. She looked expectantly at the sheriff, but he did not introduce the two men with him. “This has to do with the job you came to see me about,” Lom told her.
“Oh yes,” Victoria Kettering said, her face brightening.
“These men fit your requirements. They’re hard working and reliable.” Heyes and Kid nodded at the young woman. Kid noted the sheriff did not describe them as honest and he suppressed a smile at that. Miss. Kettering smiled back.
“It’s very kind of you to bring these gentlemen here, sheriff, but if you remember, it is two particular men that I require.” Hannibal Heyes stepped towards her, his hat in his hands. He smiled politely and she was momentarily stunned by that smile and the brown eyes that met hers.
“You have no idea who we are, do you?” he stated. She looked from Heyes, to the equally attractive young blond man, currently standing beside the door, with his arms folded across his chest.
“I’m sorry gentlemen, should I?”
Heyes turned towards the door.
“C’mon Lom, lets go,” Heyes said.
“No wait. I want to know what’s going on,” Lom said. “Miss. Kettering you came to see me, asking me to find two men you needed, for a very important job. You claimed that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry and that you knew these men personally, having been close to Hannibal Heyes.”
“Yes sheriff, that’s right,” she nodded.
“These men are Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones.” Miss. Kettering looked a little stunned and her mouth formed a perfect ‘O’. “You didn’t recognise either of them.”
“So, what we’d like to know is what you are up to and what you want from us?” Heyes put in quickly. Miss. Kettering looked sheepish. “And why do you think we’re Heyes and Curry?”
“I’m sorry but I wouldn’t know Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry if they were in the room right now,” she admitted. None of the men chose to comment on that.
“I think you have some explaining to do,” Lom told her. Victoria sat down on the bed. She gestured for Lom to sit in the chair opposite her. Kid leaned back against the door, still not having said a word. Heyes put one hand on the wall and leaned into it, suppressing his annoyance.
“I’ve never met either of you before, that’s true,” she said and looked from one man to the next. “I’ve been employed to find Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, to offer them a job.” Kid and Heyes exchanged a look but neither spoke.
“Go on,” Lom prompted her.
“My employer gave me your name, Sheriff Trevors. I was told to tell you that Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry and that saying that would get your interest. I hope I haven’t gotten you gentlemen into trouble.” She gave them a weak smile.
“Not yet,” Heyes told her dryly.
“Who’s your employer?” Lom asked.
“I don’t know.” All three men look puzzled. She could see she was expected to explain. “It’s true, I don’t know. I’m an actress. I was performing in a small theatre in Denver when I received a letter offering me $500 if I came to Porterville and made sure that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones came here as soon as possible.”
“Go on,” Kid finally said, from his position against the door.
“If I accepted I was to leave a message pinned on the notice board by the stage door. So I did. I was later sent details of exactly how to contact Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. I would receive a further $200 when my part in this was successfully completed.”
“Who sent the letter?” Heyes asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You didn’t ask?” the dark-haired man seemed surprised.
“For $700? I’m a small time actress. No I didn’t ask,” she told him honestly.
“So how does your employer contact you now?” Lom asked.
“By letter or telegram.”
“How did you receive the money?” the lawman watched her trying to tell if she was lying or not.
“Through the bank.”
“This bank?” Heyes asked and she nodded. Heyes looked at Lom who was already getting to his feet. “The bank manager may have a record of who sent it.”
“Exactly,” Lom replied. He turned to the young woman. “Miss. Kettering what were you supposed to do once Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones agreed to do this job?”
“Once they were on their way I was free to go home.”
“I’ll have further questions for you,” the sheriff told her. “I could lock you up for wasting my time and to ensure you stayed here. I hope I don’t need to do that? I expect you to be here when I return.”
“I promise I won’t leave town until you tell me I can,” she assured him. “What about the job?” she asked as the men turned to leave. They looked back, a little confused.
“The job?” Kid asked.
“Will you take it?” she asked. “There really is a job. That was made clear to me. My employer simply wants to remain anonymous. The job pays $2000 apiece, with the possibility of a bonus, once successfully completed,” Victoria smiled, having successfully delivered the message and her lines.
“We’ll get back to you on that,” Heyes told her. Kid tipped his hat to her as he replaced it on his head.
“Please think about it. I’m not going anywhere,” she said as they left.
“So what do we do?” Kid asked.
They were in the sheriff’s office, waiting for Lom to return from the bank. Kid sat rocking back and forth on a chair, as Heyes paced in front of the cells.
“I don’t know Kid. I just can’t work it out. Is she telling the truth? If she is, who’s this anonymous employer? But then as she says, she is an actress. How do we know this isn’t all one big act?”
Before Kid could reply, the door to the office opened and Lom walked in. He did not look too pleased.
“The money was deposited in cash by an anonymous source at a bank in Denver with instructions to forward it here to Miss. Kettering,” he told them. “There’s no way to find out who it was.” He looked disappointed. Heyes began to pace again and Lom and Kid exchanged a look both knowing to let their friend think.
“Someone knows we’re Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry that’s for sure,” the ex-outlaw leader stated. “It’s no coincidence they asked for us and used those names to get Lom to contact us. I just have no idea who it could be,” Heyes hated to admit it.
“We’re not walkin’ away from this, are we?” Kid stated.
“No we’re not. I want to know who’s behind this,” Heyes told his partner. “I want to know what they’re up to. Maybe it is a bounty hunter; maybe not. If we leave now they might try and get to us some other way.”
“We’re takin’ the job, aren’t we?” Kid said.
“Yes Kid, we are,” his friend said and Lom looked at both men with concern.
“Miss. Kettering,” Heyes said, as the young lady opened the hotel room door. She looked pleased to see them.
“Please gentlemen, come in,” she gestured for them to enter and once again they removed their hats, as they entered her room.
“We’ll take the job,” Heyes stated, smiling pleasantly as he did so.
“Oh good. Oh that’s wonderful.” She smiled back giving Kid a special glance that Heyes did not miss. “Then I should give you this,” she said, opening a drawer in the dresser and withdrawing an envelope.
“What do we have to do?” Kid asked, as she closed the drawer.
“Deliver these documents to a man named Milton Fisher.” She handed them to Heyes, who stood closest to her.
“And where do we find Mr. Fisher?” the blond-haired man asked as his partner studied the papers, which were bound with a red ribbon.
“He’s at a place called Buffalo Wells,” she stated, clearly having no idea where that was and the men exchanged a look. Buffalo Wells was a town they knew. They had hoorayed there several times after a bank or train job with the Devil’s Hole Gang.
“What are these documents?” Heyes asked.
“Deeds to some land Mr. Fisher has inherited,” Victoria explained and her smile was once more focussed on Kid. The blond man’s blue eyes met hers and he smiled back. She was only a little younger than he was and really quite pretty. Victoria touched her hair self consciously, as he continued to stare at her. Heyes watched his partner with amusement. He needed Kid’s mind on the job, not Miss. Kettering.
“So we simply hand these over to Milton Fisher and that’s it?” Heyes stated.
“That’s it,” she said. “There is $1000 already waiting at the bank for you both.”
“Apiece?” Kid asked and she nodded.
“There will be another $1000 released to you when you return with a signature for the receipt of the documents from Mr. Fisher. All you have to do is show it to the bank manager and he will release the funds when told to.”
“No other instructions?” Heyes asked.
“None,” she assured him.
“That’s a lot of money just to deliver some documents,” Heyes observed.
“I know. I don’t think money is a problem for my employer.”
“All right,” the dark-haired man told her. “We’ll start out in the morning.” He headed for the door. Kid was still smiling at Miss. Kettering.
“Thaddeus,” Heyes called and Kid looked up suddenly aware that he had been staring at her. He blushed, a little and began to follow Heyes out of the room. Heyes stopped suddenly and Kid almost bumped into him.
“Do you have any idea why your employer asked for us?” the dark-haired man asked.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” Victoria admitted honestly.
“Any idea why they hired you?”
“Well I’d like to think they saw how good an actress I am and could see me in the part.” She saw the look he gave her. “No, I don’t imagine that’s what they thought either. I have no idea why I was chosen. I suppose they could see I needed the money.”
Satisfied that she could tell them no more, they bade her good day.
“Buffalo Wells, Heyes. That’s pretty close to Devil’s Hole,” Kid said when they had left the hotel and were walking back towards Lom’s office.
“Yeah,” Heyes said thoughtfully. “That’s what I was thinkin’.” Kid saw the look on his partner’s face.
“D’you think that’s why they want us? Somethin’ to do with Devil’s Hole?”
“It could be Kid. The question is what for?”
“You ever heard of this Milton Fisher?”
“Think he exists?”
“I don’t know,” the dark-haired man admitted.
“Think it’s a trap?” Kid asked.
“Could be,” Heyes stated thoughtfully.
“Got any ideas?” his partner asked hopefully.
“Right now?” Heyes looked at his partner. “Not one,” he admitted. The blond man thought for a moment. He looked back at the hotel, to Miss. Kettering’s window, then across the street to the sheriff’s office and finally along the boardwalk.
“So does that mean we can get somethin’ to eat?” Heyes stared at his partner. “Well we haven’t eaten since breakfast,” Kid reminded him and his friend smiled.
“Okay Kid. I guess we’ll both think better with a full stomach. Lead the way,” he said placing a hand on his partner’s shoulder.
They rode out the following morning. Lom watched his two friends leave with concern. He had brought them to Porterville and even now they could be riding into a trap. There were plenty of bounty hunters out there, hoping to earn themselves $20,000 by bringing in Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. If this was a trap, it seemed a pretty elaborate one. He had to admit he had been intrigued by the message from Victoria Kettering. He had also wondered about the mysterious employer, who clearly knew Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones were really Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry and yet was not rushing to turn them in. He hoped, between them, they would find out who it was. Lom watched long after his friends had disappeared from view. No one followed them, at least not from town.
Some time later, when Porterville was no longer in sight, Kid turned around in his saddle for possibly the tenth time and looked behind him.
“Kid, will you stop doing that,” Heyes said, irritated. “You’re making me nervous.”
“Yeah, well I am nervous Heyes,” his partner told him. “I jus’ want to make sure no one is followin’ us. Besides if I don’t watch my back how am I gonna watch yours?” His cousin shook his head and urged his horse on. Silently he knew Kid had a point.
Their ride, for the rest of the day, was uneventful. No one was following them. No shots were fired. However Kid kept an eye on their backs. Eventually, with both men tired from the long day’s ride, they set up camp for the night in a wooded grove. Kid tended to the horses, while Heyes made a fire.
“What are you doin’?” Hannibal Heyes asked his partner. He was kneeling by the fire sorting out the food for their evening meal. Kid Curry sat, a few feet away, leaning against a tree. He looked up on hearing his partner’s question.
“I’m checkin’ my gun,” he said, although he thought that was obvious.
“Well will you stop it!” Heyes said raising his voice.
“You want me to stop checkin’ my gun?” the blond man asked incredulously.
“Heyes, may I remind you that my gun has got us out of trouble more times than…”
“I know! Alright?” Heyes yelled and Kid was taken aback by his partner’s response. “But you have checked it six times already and you turned around fifteen times in the saddle today.” He saw the look Kid gave him. “Yes I was countin’,” Heyes admitted and Kid looked sheepish.
“Well I told you, I’m nervous,” Kid explained. “I don’t know what we’re runnin’ from or to. I don’t know if there’s a bounty hunter out there waitin’ to creep up on us, or a sheriff and a posse and not knowin’ makes me nervous.”
“Well you being nervous, makes me nervous and more than that it’s drivin’ me crazy!” There was the snap of a twig behind them and Kid spun round, his gun instantly in his hand. A rabbit scampered away into the darkness. Both men let out the breath they had been holding. Heyes looked at his partner. Kid gave him a smile, twirled his gun with unnecessary flamboyance and dropped it neatly into its holster. He looked at his partner and waited.
“Alright, you can check your gun,” Heyes relented. “But just one more time okay?”
“Okay Heyes whatever you say. Now are you gonna cook the food or just look at it because I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, well missin’ a meal wouldn’t hurt you,” his dark-haired friend muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kid asked.
“It means you’re getting chunky Kid,” Heyes told him.
“I am not chunky.” Kid patted his stomach. “This is all…muscle.” Heyes made a derogatory sound.
“If you say so. I say you’re not doin’ as much physical work these days and it’s beginning to show.” He turned back to the fire.
“Yeah, well you’re too skinny,” Kid countered, a little hurt by his partner’s comments.
“I’m not skinny,” Heyes told him. “I’m lean and lithe.”
“Whatever that means,” Kid muttered.
“It means I’m agile, like a well trained race horse.”
“You think you’re a horse?” Kid asked, raising his eyebrows.
“I didn’t say I was a horse. I said I’m like a race horse. A thoroughbred.”
“Trust you to have delusions of grandeur. You couldn’t just say a horse; it had to be a thoroughbred,” Kid scoffed.
Their conversation continued in much the same vein, with each man venting his nervousness on the other, until Heyes had the food ready and they fell silent as they ate. Kid was starving but Heyes words had hit home and he tried not to eat too fast. Heyes was enjoying watching his, clearly hungry cousin, eating slower than he’d ever seen him.
“You wanna take the first watch?” Heyes asked and Kid said he would. “Sure you don’t want to check your gun first?”
“Go to sleep Heyes,” Kid said not rising to the bait. “I’ll wake you in a couple of hours. That should give you time to have a run around the paddock before you stand watch.”
“Very funny, Kid,” Heyes replied, as he lay down and pulled the blanket up to his shoulders. Kid smiled at his friend. Somehow, they both knew they may have started something they would regret.
They reached Buffalo Wells just before noon, the following day, and rode cautiously into town. The sheriff’s office was boarded up, which surprised them. They headed for the saloon and a drink to quench their considerable thirst. It was odd being back on familiar territory. Small things sparked a memory. A bullet hole in the wood by the batwing saloon doors reminded them of the time, a very drunk Kyle Murtry, had taken a shot at Wheat Carlson and fortunately missed. The tables Heyes spent hours playing poker at, were still arranged in the same way. The bar Kid spent hours leaning on, usually with a pretty girl at his side, as he watched his partner’s back, still needed a new coat of varnish. They did not know the bartender which saved them a lot of questions.
“Howdy,” the tall man said as he moved along the bar towards them. He had jet black hair and a short black moustache.
“Two beers, please,” Heyes said and the man went to get them. He looked around and Kid could tell his partner was also remembering previous times in the saloon with Wheat and the boys.
“You boys just passin’ through?” the barman asked amiably, as he placed the beers on the counter.
“Lookin’ for someone,” Kid said and he realised that it didn’t come out as casually as he meant it to, when the bartender stiffened. Kid looked up. “A friend of ours,” he added quickly. Heyes could see they were losing a potential source of information.
“Thaddeus here owes him some money, so I guess he’s not as keen to find our friend as I am.” Heyes gave the bartender a reassuring smile and held out his hand. “I’m Joshua Smith and this here’s my partner, Thaddeus Jones.” The bartender shook their hands and introduced himself as Simon Hillman.
“So who you lookin’ for?” Simon asked them.
“Milton Fisher,” Heyes told him. “We were told he was here in Buffalo Wells.”
“Well there’s a man named Fisher workin’ at the livery stables. Don’t know if his name’s Milton,” the barman told him, as he went to collect some glasses.
“Thanks. We’ll check it out,” Heyes nodded to the man. Heyes put a hand on his partner’s arm. “Will you relax?” Heyes whispered.
“I told you Heyes; I don’t like this.” His eyes scanned the room as he spoke. “I don’t like being back here and I don’t like not knowin’ what’s goin’ on. People in this town will recognise us.”
“Yeah well, they never turned us in before. They were always too pleased to take our money.”
“People change Heyes,” Kid said. When they had finished their beers, they left the saloon. Kid adjusted his hat against the sun and climbed onto his horse. His partner pulled himself into the saddle and they turned their horses towards the livery stable.
“Fisher?” the stable manager said, repeating the name he had just been asked about. His name was Earl Jennings, he was in his late fifties with thinning grey hair and had very few teeth; a fact they had discovered when he gave them a toothless smile. “No he ain’t been in today. He’s workin’ on his cabin. I didn’t know his name was Milton. Most folks around here call him Joe.”
“Could you tell me where his cabin his?” Heyes asked hopefully. The man eyed them suspiciously, clearly trying to decide whether or not to tell them Fisher’s whereabouts. Remembering what his partner had said, Kid gave the man what he considered to be a friendly smile. In return, Heyes gave him a look that said don’t over do it! “We have some news for him, from his family,” Kid told Jennings. Earl thought about this. The young blond man looked harmless enough.
“He’s got a cabin along the river,” the older man told him. “Here, let me give you directions.” He led them outside and began pointing out of town, describing when to turn one way or the other and landmarks to look out for along the way. Thanking him the two ex-outlaws climbed onto their horses. Seeing them on horseback brought back a memory for Earl. He thought long and hard.
“Say, didn’t you used to be Hannibal Heyes?” he asked the dark-haired man.
“Thanks for your help,” Heyes said ignoring his question as he turned his horse away.
“You sure look like him,” Earl called after them. “Who was that other fella, he rode with?” Kid pulled his horse sharply to a halt. He turned in his saddle and glared at the man. Kid said nothing, just fixed his icy blue gaze on the grey-haired man, as if willing him to remember. Then Earl gave a slight smile. “Kid Curry, that was it.”
Satisfied, Kid turned back in his saddle and urged his horse forward. Beside him his partner suppressed a snigger.
“Not a word Heyes, or so help me…” was all Kid said. Heyes let him ride slightly ahead, so Kid would not see him laughing.
They found the cabin easily, following Earl’s directions. It was a run down single storey wooden structure. The front door was off and lying on the floor, beside a trestle. Some new lumbar was piled nearby. An axe sat embedded in a chopping block. It seemed Fisher was working on the cabin just as Earl had said. At the sound of approaching horses, a man appeared from behind the building. The man had brown hair, stood about six feet tall and had a strong muscular build. He wore a tool belt around his waist and carried a shotgun.
“Hold it right there gentlemen,” he said, levelling the gun at them. “Get your hands up.” They did as instructed. The man appeared to be expecting trouble.
“What do you want?” he asked the riders.
“We’re looking for Milton Fisher,” Heyes told him.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes gave the man a reassuring smile.
“What do you want Milton Fisher for?” the man asked. His accent suggested he was from somewhere back East.
“We have some important information for him,” Heyes told the man “Are you Milton Fisher?” He was sure that he was.
“Who’s this information from?” the man wanted to know. The shotgun never wavered.
“I think that’s something we should discuss with Mr. Fisher,” Heyes said. “Can we lower our hands yet?”
“Take your gun out of your holster with your left hand and throw it over there,” the man instructed Heyes. The dark-haired man did as asked. The man gestured with the shotgun indicating where Heyes should throw his weapon. “Now you do the same,” he said to Kid. Reluctant to disarm himself, Kid took a moment to think about the request. He fixed the man with an icy blue gaze. Heyes gave a slight cough but said nothing. Kid knew what his partner was telling him. Slowly he removed the gun from its holster and threw it aside.
“Now get down,” the man said and they climbed out of the saddle and stepped away from their horses. “Alright, I’m Milton Fisher. What information do you have for me?”
“It’s really some documents we have for you,” Heyes informed him. “They’re in my saddlebag.” He pointed to his horse, waiting for permission to move.
“You can get them but take it slow.” Heyes unbuckled his saddlebag and took out the documents. On Fisher’s instructions, he placed them on the chopping block and stepped back. Fisher lowered the shotgun but kept it tucked under his arm. He picked up the documents and, keeping one eye on the men, untied the ribbon. He scanned the first page and a knowing smile crept across his face. He looked up at the two young men before him.
“So when do we start back?” he asked and Heyes and Kid exchanged a puzzled look.
“I’m sorry? Start back?” Kid asked. The man nodded.
“We are going back aren’t we? I mean that’s what the documents are for, right?” Kid looked at his partner, hoping he could shed some light on the situation, because he had no idea what was going on. Heyes looked as confused as he felt.
“I think you’re gonna have to explain,” the dark-haired man said to Fisher.
“I was told to wait for a message and that the men who brought me the message would be trustworthy, and see that I got safely back to Denver. Well you brought the message.” He held up the documents.
“Yes, we did,” Heyes had to admit, his mind trying to piece things together. Fisher was beginning to understand.
“You have no idea what this is about, do you?”
“No Mr. Fisher, we don’t,” Heyes said.
“We were just hired to deliver the documents,” Kid told him.
“I see.” He looked disappointed but also a little concerned. “I don’t understand this myself now. I’ve received the message but have no escorts.”
“Why do you need an escort to Denver?” Heyes asked.
“I don’t think I can tell you.”
“Well, we’re going back to Porterville. You could ride with us that far, at least.” Fisher considered this.
“That might be the best idea. Can you tell me what you were told?” Heyes explained how they had been summoned to Porterville, their meeting with Victoria Kettering and the job they were asked to do. “Thank you. If you would ride with me to Porterville, I’d be very grateful.”
“We’ll do that,” Heyes told him. “But we’d like an explanation.” The tall man agreed.
“Would you like something to drink? I’m afraid I don’t have any coffee. There’s tea or whisky? Or is it too early?”
“Whisky would be just fine,” Heyes assured him and Fisher went to fetch it. Kid looked at Heyes.
“I have no idea Kid,” the dark-haired man told his partner, seeing the enquiring look on his face.
Having returned with cups and a bottle, Fisher poured the drinks. Heyes and Kid sat on a log as Fisher perched on the tree stump. The tall man began to explain.
“A few months ago I witnessed a crime. They did not catch the man who committed it and at the time it was thought safest for me to leave and go into hiding. So I changed my name and made my way west. I came to Buffalo Wells, found this cabin and worked at the livery stable to earn some money. I had been asked, by the family of the victim, to give evidence against the man who committed the crime. I just had to let them know where I was. If the man was ever caught, they would send word. Not by a telegram that anyone could make up but in the form of some documents for a fictitious piece of land in Denver.” He held up the documents. “These documents. I was told that the men who brought the message would also escort me safely back.”
“I see,” Heyes said. “What did you witness?”
“A murder,” Fisher told him.
“Why such an elaborate plan?” Heyes asked, as he sipped his whisky. “Why not just send a sheriff to escort you back?”
“The man who committed the crime came from a very wealthy family. I hate to say it, but some lawmen can be bought.”
“Yeah, we know,” Kid told him, remembering a certain Sheriff Clitterhouse. “Excuse us for a moment will you? I’d like to have a word with my partner.”
Heyes followed Kid and they walked a short distance away from the cabin and out of Fisher’s ear-shot.
“What do you think?” Kid asked.
“I don’t know Kid. It seems feasible. It’s a pretty complex plan though.”
“Wish you’d thought of it?” Kid asked, only partly in jest. Heyes decided to ignore that.
“He seems genuine enough. I think we should ride with him to Porterville and let Lom take it from there. I’d still like to know who’s behind this and maybe he’ll have some answers for us.”
“Okay,” Kid agreed and they turned back to Fisher.
With Heyes’ and Curry’s help, it did not take Milton Fisher long to pack away his tools, clear up the yard and put the door back on the cabin. As dusk was beginning to fall, it was decided that they would leave, for Porterville, in the morning. Fisher offered them the hospitality of his cabin and they accepted, grateful not to have to spend the night camping outside, or make the journey back to town. Milton Fisher, turned out to be an entertaining host. After an excellent dinner, which he had insisted on cooking, he poured them each a whisky and they sat around the fire, as he regaled them with stories of his life back east. For once, Heyes was happy to let another man take the role of story teller. Fisher was a school teacher and had worked as a tutor for some of the finest families. Their children however, were as mischievous as any and had inflicted some imaginative practical jokes on Fisher and their respective families. By the time they turned in for the night, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had grown to like the man and were happy to ride with him the next day. As yet, he was unwilling to tell them the names of the last people he had worked for and had failed to shed any light on who the mystery employer was.
They set out early the next morning. Fisher sat ramrod straight on his large black horse. He watched as his escorts pulled themselves into their saddles with casual ease. They wore their guns tied down and he knew that was for a faster draw. Whether they liked it or not, they had clearly been chosen to escort him back to Denver; in which case they were reliable, of good character and proficient with a gun. All the things he had been promised his escorts would be. They obviously looked after each other and after their evening together he liked these two amiable young men.
Not long after leaving the cabin, they spotted a cloud of dust, in the distance, signalling horses approaching at speed. Conscious of their charge’s words the day before they slowed their own mounts and watched as the riders drew nearer. Kid pulled his horse into the bushes.
“I’ll be watching your back, Joshua,” he said as he disappeared from view. Heyes eased his horse alongside Fisher’s and they waited for the riders to draw nearer.
“Hello,” Fisher said amiably, as the riders pulled their horses to a halt before them. The group of five men were led by a man with a star pinned to his chest. It was a posse and they were an odd assortment of men. It was led by Sheriff George Pemberton, who had only been a sheriff for three months, following the death in a gunfight, of the late Sheriff Potter. Sheriff Potter was a man beloved by the people in the town of Wilson Creek. Sheriff Pemberton could not hope to fill his shoes and nobody thought that he would. Sheriff Potter had been a large man with a booming voice and a fierce temper. He had also been a practical man, who overlooked the Devil’s Hole Gang hooraying in his town, as long as they did not do anything illegal in Wilson Creek. The town folk were so grateful, for the money the Gang brought to their town, that they re-elected the sheriff several terms in a row. George Pemberton was smaller in stature, thin and slightly anaemic in appearance but the town folk were thankful that someone had stepped forward to do the job until a more suitable candidate could be found.
At Pemberton’s side rode Deputy Dan Simpson, a red-haired young man, nineteen years of age. He was bright and eager, but still very naive about the ways of the world and he hung on the word of any man who cared to offer him advice. Dan had yet to differentiate between good and bad advice.
The posse was completed by Jonathon Jenkins, a clerk at the bank, Archie Benson the owner of the general store and Pete Sorenson who did odd jobs around town and had been asleep outside the sheriff’s office, when George Pemberton came out looking for men to ride with him. This odd assortment of men rode hard after their quarry, the men who had just robbed the bank in Wilson Creek.
“I’m Sheriff George Pemberton. Who are you?” the sheriff demanded to know as his horse came alongside the two men.
“I’m Joshua Smith and this is Milton Fisher,” Heyes told him, hoping Kid was well out of sight.
“What are you men doing out here?” the lawman wanted to know.
“I have a cabin just along the river,” Fisher explained. “Are you after someone sheriff?”
“We sure are. Two men robbed the bank in Wilson Creek early this morning. They headed this way.” He looked at Heyes, giving his face the sort of scrutiny that made the ex-outlaw extremely uncomfortable.
“Who d’you think did it?” Heyes asked.
“Around here? Devil’s Hole Gang for sure.”
“I didn’t think they touched the towns so close to their hide out,” Heyes said casually. This sheriff was new to him. He remembered Sheriff Potter. When he was the leader, the Devil’s Hole Gang would never have robbed the bank in Wilson Creek. It was just too close to home. Potter had let them unwind in his town as long as they behaved themselves.
“I wouldn’t put anything past that thieving bunch of outlaws,” the sheriff said. “If you see anyone along the way, don’t approach them. Let the law do its job.”
“We will sheriff,” Milton Fisher assured him. The sheriff’s eyes narrowed as he gave Heyes another long look and then urged his horse on. The other riders followed him. When they were gone from view, Kid Curry rode out of the undergrowth to join them.
“What do you think?” Fisher asked. “They seemed genuine to me.”
“Oh they were,” Kid assured him, exchanging a look with his partner. “Didn’t like the way he kept looking at you though, Joshua,” Kid said quietly to his partner.
“Me neither. I think we’d best put some distance between us and them.”
Some way down the road Sheriff Pemberton pulled his horse to a halt. He knew the man he had just passed. There had been something about him that seemed just too familiar. It was a man he had seen before, over a year ago. It had been in Buffalo Wells, when the Devil’s Hole Gang were in town celebrating a successful bank job. He was certain now, the man he had just seen on horseback, was Hannibal Heyes. The other man could be Kid Curry although he certainly did not fit the description as he remembered it. He had never seen the gunslinger before.
“Men,” the rest of the posse looked at him expectantly. “We just let Hannibal Heyes slip through our fingers. I bet those men were the ones that robbed the bank. Watch yourselves, remember they’re outlaws, wanted dead or alive. Be ready to use your guns.” He turned his horse around. “Let’s get after them!” The other men in the posse exchanged looks. Suddenly things had turned more serious. There was now the distinct possibility that they could get hurt. They had not minded the excitement of the chase but the possibility of being shot at was not something they had volunteered for. However, there was no way out of it now. Nervously, the posse rode back the way they had come.
Kid turned in the saddle and saw the approaching dust cloud and knew it was not good news.
“Joshua,” he said, in a tone that told Heyes there was a problem. His partner looked over his shoulder, at the approaching riders.
“Trouble?” Heyes asked.
“I reckon it’s them coming back. The question is why?” Kid said. They urged their horses on faster.
“Shouldn’t we see what they want?” Milton Fisher asked.
“I think we know what they want,” Kid told him.
“We can’t afford to let them catch us. Milton you have to trust us,” Heyes told him. Milton knew he would have to trust their judgement. If they thought it was best to run from a posse, that’s what he would do.
The posse continued to pursue them. If any man thought he had the chance of hitting their prey he was encouraged to fire off the occasional shot. Jenkins, the bank clerk, took aim with his gun and fired.
“Jesus!” Kid yelled as the shot just missed him. “Who the hell are they?”
“I don’t know Thaddeus. Oddest bunch I’ve ever seen,” Heyes told him, as he kept low.
They both realised the sheriff must have recognised Heyes. That was the only reason that explained the looks he had given the dark-haired man and the posse’s sudden return.
Another shot whistled above their heads and then Fisher’s horse gave a squeal and stumbled. Fisher was thrown over the animal’s head and onto his back in the dust. The two ex-outlaws pulled their horses up sharply and Kid was quickly off his horse and at the big man’s side.
“You alright?” Kid asked, as Milton sat up. The tall man nodded, clearly a little stunned.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said, his dignity hurt more than his body. He got to his feet, brushing the dust off as he did so. Having dismounted, Heyes handed Milton his hat and then went to fetch Fisher’s horse. The horse seemed fine. Heyes checked it over and then noticed a slight cut on one of its hind legs. On closer inspection, he realised that it was a graze from a bullet. The wound was not deep and no longer seemed to be troubling the animal. They would tend it when they got the chance.
“What were they tryin’ to do shoot its legs out from under him?” Kid asked, looking over Heyes’ shoulder at the wound, then back at the group heading towards them.
“No, they’re not that good a shot,” Heyes stated, as Milton eased himself back onto his horse, clearly a little bruised from the fall. Heyes handed him his reins. Another bullet hit a rock around knee height, startling the two ex-outlaws.
“What are they doin’ shootin’ at midgets now?” Kid asked, as he pulled himself into the saddle. They set of again at pace. The posse continued to follow them, although the three men were finally beginning to increase the gap between them. Urging their horses on, they descended a slope leading to a fast flowing river. They gently nudged their nervous horses into the water.
They rode slowly and carefully across the river, keeping their feet high so as not to get their boots wet. As the horses reached the far bank, the posse had closed the gap and the shooting started again. They ducked as bullets flew about them and urged their horses away from the river and the men pursuing them. A bullet whizzed over Heyes’ head. The dark-haired man held the reins tighter, as his horse tried to pull away, frightened by the close shot. They were the luckiest poor shots he had ever seen. There was a second and third shot, which Milton ducked and then, behind him, Heyes heard Kid cry out.
“Damn it!” Kid cursed. Heyes looked back, to see his partner leaning forward in the saddle, his right arm down at his side.
“You hit?” he called, worried for his friend’s safety.
“Yeah, my leg. It’s okay keep goin’,” Kid told him, knowing Heyes would want to check on him as soon as he could. They rode on but noted that the posse no longer followed them.
On the other side of the river, Sheriff Pemberton had reached the edge of his jurisdiction. He was not conscientious enough to ride after the outlaws once they had left his territory and they were getting closer to Devil’s Hole with each stride. There was now the distinct possibility of an attack by the rest of the gang. For their part, the other men in the posse felt the same way. Jonathon Jenkins knew he should be getting back to the bank, Archie Benson wanted to open up the general store and young Deputy Simpson knew his mother was expecting him back for supper at the usual time. His mom was apt to worry if he was late. So, having watched their quarry ride out of sight, the men turned their horses and headed back to Wilson Creek. They had enough tales to see them through the long winter nights ahead; tales of a daring chase across open country, in pursuit of desperate outlaws.
Once he realised they were no longer being followed, Hannibal Heyes pulled his horse to a stop and turned to check on his friend. Kid’s eyes revealed the pain he was in, even if he was trying hard not to let it show on his face. Heyes pulled his horse alongside Kid’s. The blond man had his hand on his right thigh and blood ran through his fingers. Fisher looked on with concern.
“How bad?” Heyes asked. Kid looked up at his partner; his face was a little pale despite the hard ride.
“It’s okay. Just a scratch I reckon,” the blond man told him, although it sure did not feel like a scratch. Heyes knew he was lying. No scratch was going to bleed the way Kid’s wound was.
“Let me see,” he said and Kid removed his hand from the wound. Lifting the material of his jeans, Heyes saw a bloody hole in Kid’s flesh. The wound looked deep. “We need to stop the bleeding. You’d best get down,” Heyes stated, as he began to dismount.
“It’s fine. C’mon, let’s put some more distance between them an’ us, just in case they change their minds.” Heyes ignored his partner, dismounted and tied the reins to a tree. After a moment, he looked up at Kid.
“You still up there?” he asked patiently, clearly expecting Kid to do as he was told.
“Heyes…” Kid pleaded, but then he saw the look on his partner’s face and realised he had called him by his real name. “Okay Joshua,” he quickly added when Milton did not seem to have noticed. Kid pulled his leg over the saddle, cursing as he did so. He kept a hold on the saddle horn to steady himself. His leg hurt but he was trying hard not to let Heyes know just how much.
“Come over here,” the dark-haired man said gesturing to a large boulder and, with Milton’s support, Kid limped towards it. He sat down. Kid mumbled as he held his right thigh. Blood flowed freely from the bullet hole in his jeans. Heyes removed a small knife from his boot and cut open the hole in the fabric, allowing him a better look at the wound. He could not see the bullet. The wound would have to be cleaned and the bullet removed, but open countryside, with a posse likely to return at any moment, was not the place to do it.
“The bullet’s still in there,” Heyes told his friend. Kid nodded and untied the bandana from around his neck and then began to unbuckle his belt. Heyes took the bandana and folded it into a rough dressing. After Heyes placed it over the wound, Kid placed his belt around his leg and pulled the belt tight. Kid cried out and grabbed his partner’s shoulder. Heyes saw the colour drain from his face and he thought Kid might pass out. He let his partner hold onto him.
“You need a doctor,” Heyes said, unnecessarily and Kid nodded.
“There’s one in Buffalo Wells,” Milton informed them.
“We can’t go back there,” Heyes told him and Kid shook his head in agreement. “After today we can’t go into any town close to Devil’s Hole, until this mess is cleared up.”
“You’re Hannibal Heyes aren’t you?” Milton was clearly in awe of the reputation of the famous outlaw. Heyes and Kid exchanged a look. “Then you must be Kid Curry,” he said looking directly at Kid.
“Us? Heyes and what’s his name?” the dark-haired man asked incredulously, as Kid looked away.
“The sheriff recognised you,” Milton said staring at Heyes. “We had no reason to run from the sheriff otherwise. Did we? And he just called you Heyes.” Kid sighed and leaned back against the rocks. Heyes said nothing.
“I’m scared, but I’m not stupid,” Fisher told them.
“Can we discuss this some other time?” Kid asked weakly.
“I guess I’m not the only one with an alias,” the big man stated. Heyes returned Fisher’s gaze and then turned back to his injured friend.
“Let’s get you up.” He held out a hand and Kid took it, grateful for his friend’s support. Heyes helped his cousin to his horse and then prepared to give him a boost into the saddle. Heyes looked up, shocked to see how pale his partner was. Kid had a bloody hand on the saddle and his breathing was rapid.
“I don’t think I can get up there,” Kid said as he leaned against the animal, the saddle horn in his hand. To put his foot in the stirrup, he would need to put his weight on his right leg, and he just could not see that happening.
“Come on Thaddeus, you can do it,” Heyes encouraged and he tried to help his partner back onto his horse. Kid put his left foot in the stirrup but his right leg buckled and Heyes caught him before he fell. Kid rested his head against the saddle once more. Sweat ran down his pale face.
“It’s no good, Heyes,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. “You’re gonna hafta get me a shorter horse.” Hannibal Heyes smiled and shook his head at Kid’s comment and the use of his name. Kid smiled back, apologetic. Both men realised how serious the situation was, but neither was about to admit it to the other. Milton came along side Kid.
“Let me help?” he asked and Kid looked at him. “Please? Mr. Curry?” Kid looked at his partner and Heyes shrugged. Seemed there was no fooling this man. Kid turned back to Fisher and nodded.
“On three okay?” Fisher said to Heyes. With a mighty boost, Milton Fisher and Hannibal Heyes lifted Kid Curry back into the saddle. There was some good cursing by Kid and once Heyes was sure his friend was going to be able to stay on his horse, he climbed onto his own. They rode on.
“We’re pretty close to Dead Line Point,” Kid said casually, knowing his friend had probably already realised that.
“I know,” Heyes stated, as they walked their horses along a wooded track.
“Maybe we could…” Heyes shot him a look. “Just a thought,” Kid finished weakly.
“Kid, we’ve gotta see Lom, tell him we didn’t rob the bank. Hopefully, he’ll let the Governor know before anyone else does and he forgets any deal we have with him and there goes our amnesty. If that sheriff sends out the word, by tomorrow we could have a posse from every town for miles around scouring the countryside for us. We have to get Fisher to Porterville too.”
“Yeah I know,” his partner replied reluctantly.
“And you need a doctor.” Heyes said sympathetically.
“If Preacher’s at Devil’s Hole, he could get the bullet out,” Kid stated.
“I said a doctor Kid, not a fallen clergyman.”
“Preacher knows what he’s doin’. He’s done it before, for both of us,” the blond man reminded him.
“I know but I’ll not risk your life for…”
“Hold it right there fellas,” a voice instructed them from somewhere in the undergrowth and the three men froze. Heyes and Kid exchanged a glance. “I gotta gun pointed right atcha heads. So git ya hands up.”
They did as they were told and waited as two men rode out of the trees, their guns pointed towards them. Fisher studied them. One was a small scruffy looking man. His hat rested on the back of his head and he was chewing on a wad of tobacco. The other was rounder, but equally as scruffy. Both men looked as if they could do with a good bath and some new clothes.
“Now I want you fellas ta…” the small man stopped mid-sentence and stared at the dark-haired man before him. Recognition passed over his face and he broke into a smile, revealing a mouthful of crooked teeth. “Heyes? Heyes, that you?”
“Hi Kyle,” Hannibal Heyes said, nodding an almost embarrassed greeting at the man. If Fisher had any doubts about their identities, they were gone now. “Lobo.” The men smiled back at their old leader.
“Oohwee it’s really you!” Kyle noticed the man beside Heyes. “Hey Kid,” Kyle smiled at the young blond man.
“Kyle, Lobo,” Kid said giving each man a friendly, if weak, smile. Kyle Murtry and Lobo Riggs were members of the Devil’s Hole Gang and had ridden with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry on many of their bank and train jobs. Lobo rode closer.
“What you boys doin’ round here? I thought we’d seen the lasta you,” he said.
“Just doin’ a job,” Heyes told them.
“Yeah,” Kyle grinned. “So were we.” It all fell into place.
“You robbed the bank in Wilson Creek?” Heyes asked incredulously.
“Sure did,” Lobo admitted.
“Didn’t I tell you not to rob anywhere so close to the Hole?” Heyes reminded them, with as much concern as if he was still their leader.
“Yeah, but we was broke Heyes,” Kyle told him.
“How much d’you get?” Heyes asked them.
“Enough,” Kyle told him, clearly embarrassed about something.
“How much?” Heyes repeated.
“And 16 cents,” Lobo added.
“$48 and 16 cents?” Kid repeated, incredulously.
“Well we didn’t have any dynamite,” Kyle told him. “So we just had to take what was left out.”
“Yeah, left in the manager’s wallet,” Lobo said.
“Didn’t I teach you anything?” Heyes asked, clearly disappointed in the two men.
“Well gee Heyes. We wuz jus’ usin’ our initiative like ya taught us to,” Kyle told him. His attention was drawn to the man he did not know; the man easing his horse closer to Kid’s. Kyle noticed Kid was beginning to lean over in the saddle, his head down. Fisher reached out an arm to support the young man. “Hey, wot’s wrong wi’ Kid?” Kyle asked and Heyes’ head shot round to look, with concern, at his partner.
“He’s been shot Kyle,” Heyes told him, then added through gritted teeth. “By the posse that was after you.”
“Hell, we didn’t see no posse,” Lobo stated.
“No, because they were chasin’ us!” Heyes said, raising his voice as anger got the better of him.
“Sorry Heyes,” Kyle said, sheepishly. His ex-leader controlled his anger. Looking at Kid, Heyes was still struggling to make a decision. “Sorry Kid,” Kyle added.
“Is Preacher at Devil’s Hole?” Heyes asked.
“Yeah. Rode in last week,” Lobo said. “He told us the Lord had moved him in a mysterious way. Moved him from one bottle to the next, more like.”
“He drinkin’?” Heyes asked, with concern. If he was drunk, he wouldn’t be much use to Kid.
“Not if Wheat catches him,” Kyle said. Kid Curry had been listening to all of this. He made a decision he knew his partner wouldn’t.
“Heyes, I think it best if I go with Kyle back to Devil’s Hole and you and Fisher ride on to Porterville.” Heyes looked at his cousin, trying to judge if this was something Kid really wanted, or if he was just suggesting it because he thought it was best for Hannibal Heyes.
“You sure about this Kid?” Heyes asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” the blond man nodded.
“What if Preacher isn’t up to it?” Heyes asked, clearly worried.
“He will be.”
“You don’t know that,” the dark-haired man told him.
“I know I’m not gonna make a two day ride to Porterville either.”
Heyes considered this.
“Alright,” Heyes said eventually. He was clearly reluctant to leave his friend. “Kyle, will you take Kid back to the Hole? Get Preacher to look at his leg.”
“Sure, Heyes, whatever you say,” the small man told him, as he wondered what Wheat Carlson would have to say about that. Heyes turned to his friend.
“If I can, I’ll get a doctor for you,” Heyes told him, still not sure he was doing the right thing. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Think you’ll be okay?” He met Kid’s eyes.
“Sure Heyes,” Kid said weakly. There was so much understanding in the blue orbs that fixed on him, that Heyes wanted to look away. He didn’t. They both knew Kid could not ride all the way to Porterville. Returning to Devil’s Hole was the best chance he had. “Get goin’. Get to Lom. Get us out of this mess and get Fisher there safely too. Just remember I won’t be watchin’ your back.”
Heyes smiled, but then glanced at Kid’s blood stained jeans. He hoped he was doing the right thing for his friend.
“And find me a nurse prettier than Kyle.” Kid told him.
“I’ll do my best,” Heyes assured his partner. He shook his partner’s hand, looking at his pale face. “Hey, don’t die on me okay?”
“I’ll try not to,” Kid assured him weakly. They met each other’s gaze and held it for a long moment.
Heyes eased his horse away from Kid, drawing close to Kyle Murtry.
“Look after him Kyle,” Heyes instructed, in a low voice.
“Like I was Hannibal Heyes,” the scruffy little man assured him, giving his ex-leader a reassuring smile and Heyes was touched by his words. He could not ask for more than that.
“Thank you.” Kyle nodded and Heyes knew he would take good care of his friend. He gave one last look back, before riding away with Milton Fisher at his side.
Unbeknown to any of the men as Heyes and Milton Fisher rode off, a man on a horse sat watching them. He had a thin face and a sharp pointed nose. His long brown hair was hidden beneath a battered black hat. His name was William Duncan and he was hidden from view but close enough to make out the face of the tall man on the large black horse. His hooded eyes looked at the photograph he held in his long fingers. Each of the men in his party had been given a copy of this particular photograph. It showed a tall dark-haired man, in a smart suit, posing against an impressive looking building. It was a picture of the man he had been sent to find; the man now sitting on the large black horse. Duncan smiled. It had been easier than he had expected. All he had to do now was fetch the others.
“Well c’mon Kid, let’s getcha back to the Hole,” Kyle said decisively. “You gonna be okay t’ride?”
“I’ve got no choice Kyle,” Kid told him, although he was beginning to wonder if he would be able to stay on his horse that long.
“Oh damn! I forgot to tell Heyes about…” Kyle started to say. “Oh well, it don’t matter now.”
Kid, Kyle and Lobo set off along the familiar trail towards the gang’s hideout. When they reached Dead Line Point, Kyle fired the three signal shots from his gun and they rode on. The rest of the gang were waiting for them when they reached Devil’s Hole. Wheat Carlson strode towards Kyle, as the horses stopped in front of the leader’s cabin.
“Where the hell have you bin?” the tall dark-haired man demanded to know. His hat was pulled low to shade his eyes and he still had a dark moustache.
“We run into a bitta trouble Wheat,” Kyle began to explain.
“What sorta trouble?”
“Got caught robbin’ a bank,” Lobo said.
“What? What bank? We ain’t done no bank job.”
“Wilson Creek,” Kyle told the gang’s leader.
“What? Damn it ain’t you two got an ounce a sense b’tween ya? Didn’t we always agree, not t’rob no place close to the Hole? How the hell we gonna hooray there now?” Wheat demanded to know.
“Well gee Wheat we wuz broke,” Kyle told him. “An’ we didn’t touch the safe.”
“Broke? Broke don’t excuse it Kyle. You’re ma second in command. Ya gotta have more sense than ta….” But then he saw Kid Curry, sitting on his horse just a few feet away. “Kid?” Four strides brought him to the young man’s side. Sweat ran down the blond man’s pale face, as Wheat looked up at him. Kid gave a weak smile.
“Hey Wheat.” The outlaw saw the blood-soaked, makeshift bandage around Kid’s thigh and the belt pulled tight to hold it there. As he looked into Kid’s blue eyes, the man he knew as a dangerous gunman looked young and vulnerable. Kid’s eyes began to close and he slid sideways. Kid was unconscious before he left the saddle so he did not see Wheat catch him.
“Hank!” Wheat yelled and another of the Devil’s Hole Gang emerged from the bunkhouse. “Get Preacher.” Hank ran back inside. Wheat turned to Kyle. “Kyle, Lobo, get down and give me a hand.”
“Er, Wheat…” Kyle looked a little sheepish, as he dropped from his horse. “Is she still here?”
“Yeah Kyle she is. You’d best go fetch her,” Wheat instructed, as he carried Kid towards his cabin.
Kid Curry opened his eyes and saw a familiar wooden ceiling. He knew he was lying on the bed in his old room, in the leader’s cabin at Devil’s Hole. He had no idea how he got there. He was aware of an ache in his right thigh and as he sat up a pain shot through his leg. He clamped a hand on his thigh and felt a piece of material tied around his leg, soaked in his own wet blood.
“Oh, God!” he cried out and lay back down. That hurt. That really hurt. He could not remember what had happened to him.
“Oh, you’re awake,” a woman’s voice said and turning his head, he came face to face with Elizabeth Darkly. She stood beside him, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. Elizabeth smiled sweetly at him. “How do you feel, Jed?”
“Oh, God. Not you!” he groaned and Kid Curry closed his eyes. What had happened? He racked his brain and nothing, to explain her presence, came back to him.
“Oh stop trying to sweet talk me,” she chastised mockingly. Gingerly, he pulled himself into a sitting position. Resting on one elbow, Kid looked around. It was definitely his old room but some things had changed.
“What happened?” Kid asked and she saw the confusion, as well as the pain on his face. Kid missed the glint that formed in her eyes.
“You don’t remember?” He shook his head and instantly regretted it. Her expression turned serious.
“Oh, Jed, it was awful,” she cooed. “You and I finally declared our love for each other. You said you couldn’t hide it anymore and you couldn’t live without me. We spent several passionate nights together, alone in this cabin. Wonderful, passionate nights.” She gave him a wicked smile and his mouth dropped open. “Of course Hannibal took it badly. When he caught us he was furious with us both. You vowed to protect me and as we rode off together, he shot at us. Thank goodness he’s not as good a shot as you, or you’d be dead. He merely hit you in the leg.” She turned her head away, as if terribly upset by the whole affair. She took a sip of coffee and looked over her shoulder, enjoying the expression on his face as his mouth dropped open. He really had no idea if what she was saying was true. Kid fought to clear the fog that seemed to be in his head.
“You’re kiddin’ right?” he asked, hopefully. Elizabeth said nothing and he looked terrified.
“Well Jed, would it be so horrible if it were true?” she asked, finally relenting.
“It would be a nightmare,” he told her honestly, lying back, relieved that she had been joking.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” he replied, his throat felt parched. She left the room. Elizabeth Darkly had been a thorn in the side of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry since they had first met her, when she stole a necklace from Big Mac McCreedy. After that, she tried to turn them into the law for the reward money and had shot Heyes in the process. Much to their surprise, some months later she had enlisted their help to free her kidnapped sister. There was something of an unspoken truce between them now, but any meeting with Elizabeth Darkly seemed guaranteed to bring trouble for them all.
Hannibal Heyes and Milton Fisher rode slowly through a small wooded copse, giving the horses a moment to catch their breath. The sun shone through the leaves casting dappled light across the trail, the horses and the two riders.
“You’re worried about your friend?” Milton Fisher asked, looking across at his companion.
“Yes I am. I don’t like leavin’ him when he’s hurt,” Heyes told him, truthfully.
“But those men; they’ll take care of him?”
“Yes they will. It doesn’t make me feel any better though. I should be with him,” Heyes stated.
“But you need to see the sheriff in Porterville?”
“Yes I do,” Heyes agreed.
“And your friend understands that?” Milton asked.
“Only too well,” Heyes told him.
“Did I hear you mention something about amnesty?” Heyes nodded. “Will they give you two amnesty? I don’t mean to insult you but you have robbed a lot of trains and banks.”
“Yes, we did, but the Governor of Wyoming is considering us for it. We just have to stay out of trouble, until he thinks we deserve it.”
“So if he thinks you robbed the bank in Wilson Creek…” he left the rest unsaid.
“And you’re still wanted, despite the amnesty promise?” Heyes nodded again. Fisher looked concerned. “I’m sorry about this. If you hadn’t come looking for me, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“It’s not your fault. We took the job. I just wish I knew who was employin’ us.” He looked at Milton. “Do you have any idea who sent for you?”
“Not exactly but I imagine it would be the de Milo family.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened,” Heyes suggested, pulling his horse to a halt.
“Well, I suppose I do owe you something of an explanation. My real name is Edgar Hallingham. I worked for Mr. Silas de Milo, in Boston. I was tutor to his youngest son Hector. We had just finished a lesson, when I heard shouting; voices raised in an argument. I went out of the room to see what was going on. Hector’s sister Beatrice was at the top of the stairs, with her gentleman friend George Zachary. They were arguing, that much was clear.” He paused clearly distressed by what he had seen. “And then he threw her down the stairs. Just like that. No warning. He grabbed hold of her arms and threw her. She did not trip, she did not fall. He knew exactly what he was doing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. George looked up and saw me and he ran. Hector came out of the room to see what all the fuss was about. I tried to stop him seeing her but… Beatrice lay at the bottom of the stairs. I knew she was dead. Her neck was at an awkward angle and her eyes were open. She was a beautiful young woman.” He let out a heavy sigh. Heyes said nothing, allowing the man to compose himself before he continued.
“There was a real commotion, as you can imagine. George disappeared and then I started to receive threats. I was in fear of my life and Mr. de Milo offered to send me away. I had always wanted to see the west and it seemed a good place for me to go into hiding. When George was found they would send for me. We arranged the message with the documents and I was told that whoever brought it would see me safely back to Denver where I would be met by bodyguards for the journey to Boston.”
“I’m sorry but we didn’t know about that part,” Heyes said.
“It’s not your fault. You’ve already saved me from the posse.” He smiled.
“They weren’t after you,” he reminded the man. “So can we assume Mr. de Milo hired Victoria?”
“That doesn’t really sound like the sort of thing he would do; far too subtle. He’d be more likely to send a wagon full of armed men.”
“Do you know anyone else who would help out?”
“No I’m sorry…oh wait. There is…but I doubt if…,” he shook his head dismissing the idea.
“Who?” Heyes prompted.
“Well I imagine the Brinklemeyer’s would help out if they could. Beatrice and Eloise were at school together and of course Elizabeth has travelled all over the west.” Heyes thought there was something familiar about those names.
“Yes. Do you know her?” He looked at the dark-haired man, sensing he had recognised the name.
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, but she’s not that anymore. She was married, well widowed now. So she would be Elizabeth Darkly.” Heyes froze at the sound of the name.
“Elizabeth Darkly?” Heyes asked.
“Yes. Do you know her?” Edgar asked.
“Oh yes,” Heyes wore an ironic smile. He felt a sudden dull ache in his left shoulder, and unconsciously touched the spot where the bullet had entered. “Yeah, I know Elizabeth well.”
“Then she must be the mystery employer,” Edgar suggested. “You said you thought they knew you.”
“I guess she could be.” Oh Kid was going to love this, Heyes thought. He would have to find a way to break the news to him. If Kid thought Elizabeth Darkly was involved, he’d want to shoot her for sure, and at that moment Heyes thought he’d probably let him do it too.
When Elizabeth returned to the room, she carried a coffee cup. Hearing her enter, Kid opened his eyes. She held the cup out to him.
“Here,” she said and, pulling himself up again, he took it from her.
“Thanks,” he said and took a sip. “That’s good.”
“I’d be flattered but you only have that stuff Hannibal makes, to compare it with.”
“Will you stop doing that?” he asked.
“Using our names, those names.”
“Hannibal and Jed?” He nodded. “Why?”
“Because they’re from a long time ago. We haven’t been those people for a long time.” She could see he was serious and, having done her research on the two men, she understood why.
“Alright. Is it okay if I call you Kid?”
“That’s fine.” He groaned as he moved and put down his cup on the cabinet beside the bed. “This can’t be real. You can’t be here.” The coffee certainly tasted real but she could not be there. He looked directly at her. It was beginning to come back to him. They had met a man called Milton Fisher. They had some documents for him. There was a posse, he had been shot and Heyes had gone to Porterville. But how had he come to be at Devil’s Hole? They did not allow women at Devil’s Hole, so Elizabeth Darkly could not be here. “You’re a dream,” he stated.
“Oh, you say the nicest things,” she said and she sat on the bed beside him. Her leg pressing against his certainly felt real. His shirt was open and she ran a finger down his chest. “That real enough for you?” she asked and he shivered at her touch. Kid looked uncomfortable. Elizabeth Darkly certainly felt real. She was enjoying watching him squirm.
The door opened and Kyle walked in.
“Miss. Elizabeth I…” he saw her sitting on the bed next to Kid; saw her hand on his chest. “Oh, sorry Kid. I didn’t know.” Kyle backed up.
“Kyle wait!” Kid called and pushed Elizabeth’s hand away. “Will you get off me!” he snapped. She smiled and stood up.
“What did you want Kyle?” she asked.
“Preacher’s ready to take the bullet out,” he told her. “He’s sober now.”
“That’s real comforting to know,” Kid muttered.
“Send him in any time. I’ll get the patient ready.” She turned back to face Kid and he didn’t like the smile she gave him.
“What are you doin’ here?” he asked her.
“Oh you’ll see. First we have to get that bullet out.”
“We? There’s no we. Preacher will know what to do,” he assured her.
“Oh silly me. I’m sure you’re more than happy to have a man, with a hand that won’t stop shaking, working on you with a knife.” She let that sink in. The door opened and Preacher walked in with Wheat. Preacher’s thin face was deathly pale and looked desperate for a drink. Kid looked at Elizabeth and she gave him a sweet, I told you so, smile.
“Everything okay, Miss. Elizabeth?” Wheat asked.
“Oh, it’s fine Wheat,” Elizabeth Darkly told him. “Although I don’t think Kid will co-operate.” Wheat turned serious and he looked down at the blond man lying on the bed.
“Not co-operatin’? After we took him in outta the goodness of our hearts?” Kid sighed. What had she done to these men?
“Okay, get his clothes off,” Preacher instructed, as he stood beside the bed.
“Whoa!” Kid said, with more than a hint of panic in his voice. “Not with her here.”
“You know you need me,” Elizabeth told him and made a little trembling hand gesture as she nodded towards Preacher.
“Guys. Please. Leave me some dignity,” Kid pleaded with his old colleagues as Preacher reached for Kid’s jeans. Kid tried to pull away but his leg hurt too much and he groaned as he struggled. Wheat placed a hand on Kid’s shoulder and, meeting little resistance from the injured man, pushed him back down.
“Okay,” Preacher said decisively. “Hold real still Kid.” With the expertise of a skilled skinner Preacher took his knife and ran it around and along the material of Kid’s jeans, then pulled off the right leg in one piece. He did the same with the leg of Kid’s underwear. Kid finally let out the breath he had been holding. He looked shocked but grateful to see that his leg did not come away with the material. The door opened and Kyle and Lobo entered carrying respectively, a bowl of water and some bandages.
“Got the stove goin’ good an’ hot,” Lobo told them.
“Put this on it and bring me some whisky,” Preacher instructed, handing him the knife.
“Er..Preacher, don’t ya think you’ve had enuff?” Wheat asked at the mention of whisky.
“It’s for the wound,” the dark-haired man told him, flatly.
When everything was ready, Preacher had Kyle and Wheat stand by Kid’s shoulders and Lobo and Elizabeth at the foot of the bed. Kid watched them nervously. He was unarmed and surrounded. It was not a comfortable position to be in.
“Now you folks better hold ‘im down real good,” Preacher said and Elizabeth gave Kid a knowing smile. This really could not be happening to him. Preacher opened the whisky.
“I could take a swig of that,” Kid said and the man handed him the bottle. Kid took a long gulp and then another just to be sure. The others took up their positions.
“You ready?” Preacher asked and Kid nodded. “Want somethin’ to bite down on?”
“Not yet,” Kid stated and swallowed as he anticipated the pain that was to come. Preacher worked with the skill of a man who had done this many times before and with the care of someone trying to save a friend’s life. As the knife cut deep and probed his flesh and muscle, Kid cried out. He fought the pain, tried to stay as still as possible but could not help writhing as he instinctively moved away from the blade and the agony it caused. Kyle, Wheat, Elizabeth and Lobo held Kid down and still, as best they could. Kid gritted his teeth, tried not to cry out too often and did some good cursing.
“Hey Kid, there’s a lady present,” Kyle told him when Preacher paused. Kid shot Kyle a murderous look and the small man didn’t say anymore. He was just glad Kid did not have his gun on him.
Sweat ran down Kid’s exhausted face and Preacher paused, giving his young friend time to recover. Preacher looked in a pretty poor state too. The dark-haired man looked at Kid, who nodded for him to continue. As Preacher probed deeper for the bullet, Kid cried out once more. He was clearly growing weaker. The four people holding him down exchanged worried looks and, eventually, felt their young friend go limp, as he finally passed out. With his patient no longer conscious and moving, Preacher worked faster. He located the bullet, removed it, then did his best to close the wound and cauterise the surface with a hot knife. Elizabeth looked away as the hot metal hissed on Kid’s skin. Kid lay motionless. His breathing was shallow, his face pale, and his skin clammy. The shock of such a traumatic experience was enough to kill some men.
Elizabeth bandaged the wound and Lobo led Preacher away. If ever a man needed a drink, he did now. With Wheat’s and Kyle’s help, she removed Kid’s shirt and began to undo his jeans.
“Er, Miss. Elizabeth,” Wheat said and she saw the look on their faces.
“Alright you do it,” she relented. “But be careful of the wound. I’ll be back in five minutes.” She left them to remove the rest of Kid’s clothes, and then returned as promised when the covers were over him. She brought with her a fresh bowl of water and a face cloth. Kid’s breathing was easier now. Elizabeth brushed a strand of hair from his forehead, then wiped the cool cloth over his face and then across his chest.
Over the next few hours, Kid’s temperature rose and his breathing grew shallow and rapid. He began to show signs of infection and a fever developed as his body fought it. Clearly in pain, Kid became delirious and began to mumble. Much of what he said was incoherent but Elizabeth heard the occasional cry for “Heyes”. She wondered where his dark-haired friend was. Kid was certainly a handsome young man but it was the brown-eyed Hannibal Heyes who had caught her attention all those months ago. The man she had subsequently shot, although she had apologised to him for that and was sure he had forgiven her. She wouldn’t intentionally do it again; not without provocation.
“Heyes,” Kid muttered. “Heyes get back. I can’t…don’t have my gun. Heyes get…I can’t…” but what Kid could not do for Heyes remained a mystery. She made soothing noises, trying to make him rest but he was fighting someone or something in his dreams. Kid’s fists tightened and she saw his fingers moving, as if gripping the handle of his gun. It moved her to see the young man clearly in distress, as he met some unknown enemy. She would not admit it to their faces but she had grown fond of the two ex-outlaws. Kid cried out again, his breathing quickened. She tried to quieten him. Kid had to give the wound a chance to heal. The bandage on his leg was already bloodstained where the wound was weeping.
“Heyes…it’s…Heyes, he’s here,” Kid called out, growing agitated even in his sleep. “Bilson…Not dead…No…Don’t have my gun.”
She had no idea who he was talking about, but Elizabeth Darkly made a mental note to find out more about this man called Bilson. He clearly caused Kid Curry some distress. Trying to quieten him, she took hold of his left hand and was surprised when he gripped it tightly, as if desperate for the comfort it brought. Kid held on, as he fought the pain. He opened his eyes momentarily, looking straight at her, but Kid showed no signs of recognition.
“Heyes? Help him…I can’t…Bil…” but he did not finish, drifting once more into unconsciousness.
“It’s alright Kid. You’re safe here,” she told him and, keeping a firm hold of her hand, Kid Curry began to relax. Elizabeth Darkly realised, in some small way, what a life on the run, had done to this young man.
As they rode, Heyes turned in his saddle several times to scan the trail behind them. He realised, ironically, that he was doing exactly what he had chastised Kid about. Heyes understood how his friend felt.
“Is something wrong?” Hallingham asked with concern.
“I don’t know,” Heyes told him honestly. “I have a feelin’ we’re being followed.” Edgar Hallingham turned back, scanning the horizon.
“I don’t see anyone. Do you?”
“No,” Heyes admitted.
“Then why do you think we’re being followed?”
“Just a feelin’. An all too familiar feelin’.” He looked at Hallingham, who was trying to understand. “C’mon lets keep goin’.” Heyes cast another look behind them. There was something back there, he was sure of it. He couldn’t put a finger on exactly what. He wished Kid was there, he would have felt it too and at least they could watch each other’s backs. Kid would have seen the irony too, in what was making Heyes nervous.
Heyes and Edgar rode on late into the night. Heyes wanted to get as close to Porterville as he could before they made camp. If he had been alone, he would have ridden throughout the night to see Lom and get help for Kid but Edgar was not used to spending so long in the saddle. Heyes knew the other man was tired and he knew he would not admit it. To his credit Edgar Hallingham had not complained once about the harsh pace Heyes had set. Finally, Heyes pulled his horse to a halt.
“We’ll stop here for an hour or so,” he announced. “It’ll give the horses a chance to rest.” He looked at Hallingham. “Us too,” he added, with a smile and the school teacher nodded gratefully.
Heyes set about making camp. He lit a fire, put on a pot of coffee and pulled some jerky from his saddle bag. The posse had stopped them riding into town to collect provisions, so they were left with whatever Heyes had thrown into his saddlebags. Heyes suggested Edgar should try to get a little sleep. Even an hour or two would help.
As he curled into his blanket, the school teacher realised Heyes had taken up a place beside the fire.
“Aren’t you going to sleep?” the tall man asked.
“I’ll keep watch for a while, just to be sure,” Heyes told him and this seemed to satisfy the man.
“I can help,” Edgar offered.
“I’ll wake you when it’s your turn,” Heyes said but he never did. He sat by the fire, listening to the sounds around them, watching for any movement, and waiting for the bullet he expected to ring out at any moment. He thought about Kid and hoped Preacher had been able to remove the bullet, and was looking after his cousin. Kid had been right, Preacher had patched them all up over the years but it did not stop the dark-haired man worrying.
Heyes was struggling to keep awake, when he heard something in the bushes on the other side of the fire. Tightening his grip on his gun, he watched and waited. There was a rustling sound. Heyes got slowly to his feet and, fixing his eyes on the vegetation beyond the flames, he edged closer. A twig snapped and something burst out of a bush and into the clearing. Heyes stopped dead still.
“Oh no,” he said quietly to himself. He remained motionless as the skunk walked slowly towards him. It shook its body, momentarily raising its black and white fur, and sending a wave of panic through the man standing before it. “Shoo,” Heyes whispered and waved his gun slightly. He could fire off a warning shot, but Edgar needed his rest, and he did not want to draw anyone’s attention.
“Shoo.” Heyes did not want to startle the animal. He had recently experienced the problem created by startling a skunk and it was not something he wanted to go through again.
Sniffing around the campsite, the small mammal wandered towards the dark-haired man, as if it had not a care in the world. Beside him, Edgar lay sleeping under the blanket, oblivious to the approaching danger.
“Shoo, please,” Heyes repeated. “Go away.” But the skunk ignored him and was now less than four feet away. Heyes was torn between moving swiftly backwards, and risking startling the animal into releasing its spray, or remaining perfectly still, and hoping it would just walk by him. As the creature grew closer, he held his breath and chose to brave it out. Hannibal Heyes did not move. His brown eyes followed the animal’s every movement. The skunk walked up to him, sniffed around his legs and boots and then stopped. At this point Heyes thought his heart was about to stop too and then the skunk walked off. Scurrying away into the undergrowth, it disappeared from view.
The ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang let out a long sigh and pushed back his black hat. He wiped away the sweat which, he was embarrassed to feel, had formed on his forehead. He smiled with relief, now that the danger had past. If Kid had been there he would have seen the funny side of it, and never let him forget it. Was the ex-leader of one of the most notorious outlaw gangs, developing a fear of a small furry animal? It was best if he did not tell anyone. He wondered if there was a name for fear of skunks. Probably skunkophobia or something similar. This was crazy. Next time, he’d shoot and to hell with the consequences. Relieved to have survived the encounter, Heyes poured himself a cup of coffee and settled down beside the fire, once again keeping watch.
“Kid, I’m glad you didn’t see that,” he muttered to himself. “But I wish you were here.”
Before dawn broke Heyes poured two cups of coffee and approached the sleeping form huddled beneath a blanket.
“Hey, Edgar. It’s time to get up,” he said. Heyes gave Hallingham’s boots a gentle kick and the man began to rouse. He stretched and groaned, not used to a night on the hard ground. He rubbed his eyes.
Heyes handed Edgar a cup of coffee. The man sipped it and then looked at Heyes.
“What?” Heyes asked expecting the usual complaints about his coffee.
“It’s good,” Edgar told him.
“What did you say?” Heyes asked incredulously.
“I said it’s good. I make truly awful coffee. That’s why I didn’t have any at the cabin. This is most pleasant.” Edgar smiled at the dark-haired man, as he took another sip.
“Edgar, I’ve just discovered another reason I like you,” Heyes told him with a smile and set about clearing the campsite.
Elizabeth Darkly spent the night sitting at Kid’s side. She slept with her head resting on the bed, his hand still in hers. She woke whenever Kid called out. Wheat and Kyle took turns to look in on them. When Wheat placed a blanket around her shoulders, Elizabeth awoke and gave him a grateful smile.
“I can take over Miss. Elizabeth,” the Devil’s Hole Gang leader told her.
“It’s alright Wheat. I’m fine really.”
“You should get some sleep.”
“I am,” she assured him.
“I meant proper sleep,” Wheat told her.
“I want to keep an eye on him,” she said looking at Kid.
“I can do that,” Wheat told her. “I’ve done it before. Done it too many times for him and Heyes,” he told her, as the memory of bullet wounds caused by a posse’s guns, came back to him. There was not one member of the Gang who had not been shot at some time. It was a hazard of the job. One thing the Devil’s Hole Gang prided itself on, was that they always took care of their own.
Elizabeth wanted to stay where she was and Wheat respected her wishes, closing the door quietly on his way out. Elizabeth looked at Kid. His temperature had dropped and he was calmer now, resting quietly. She laid her head back on the bed.
Early the following morning, as Elizabeth stretched her aching shoulder muscles, Kyle put his head around the door.
“How is he?” Kyle asked and she beckoned him into the room. Kyle looked at his friend with concern. Kid’s face was very pale.
“He’s resting now,” she said, as she wiped the cool cloth across the blond man’s face and chest. Kid gave an appreciative sigh and Elizabeth smiled. He would never allow her to do this if he was awake. In fact, he would no doubt be mortified, to know what she was doing or that she had held his hand throughout the night.
“He gonna be alright?” Kyle asked with concern.
“I think so. Kyle, could you sit with him for a moment?” Elizabeth asked needing a break.
“Sure, Miss. Elizabeth. Told Heyes I’d take care o’him.” Kid began to wake; his eyes opened briefly, taking in blurry shapes and a gentle voice. The shape ran a hand gently across his chest to reassure him.
“Take it easy, Kid,” she said and Kid smiled, at the shape’s gentle touch. Elizabeth passed the cloth to Kyle as Kid gave another sigh. He was beginning to regain consciousness. The cloth was placed across his forehead and Kid smiled once more.
“Thank you,” Kid said suddenly and opened his eyes to see who the shape, taking such delicate care of him, was. He came face to face with Kyle Murtry.
“My pleasure Kid,” Kyle told him, grinning back. Kid sat up quickly; instantly regretted it; grabbed his leg and cried out in pain.
“What they hell do you think you’re doin’?” Kid yelled at Kyle, convinced the man had just run his hands over him.
“Well Kid I was jus’.”
“Jus’ what? Get your hands off me Kyle!” Kid yelled.
“No, Kid I didn’t…” Kyle pleaded.
Elizabeth watched the scene unfold from the doorway and suppressed a laugh. Kid was definitely going to be alright. She would explain to him later…or maybe she wouldn’t. As she closed the door, she was sure she heard a punch land.
After saddling the horses at first light, Heyes and Edgar rode all day. Heyes allowed them only a short break to rest the horses, then they moved on again. He was not sure if the horses could keep up the pace he was driving them at. Sweat lathered their bodies, and their breathing was heavy, but he had to reach Porterville as soon as possible. The image of the blood on Kid’s jeans and his pale face kept Heyes going and the thought of the Governor informing Lom that the deal with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry was off, gnawed at him. He knew the big man, riding beside him, was tired, but they could not stop. Heyes would not stop until he had seen Lom and explained. Then he would find a fresh horse and ride back to Devil’s Hole; to Kid. He only hoped he would get there in time.
“Kyle said it was you,” Kid told her, when Elizabeth returned. The colour had returned to his face and he looked decidedly stronger.
“Me?” she asked innocently, as she closed the door.
“Yes, you,” he stated, knowing she knew exactly what he was talking about. “I jus’ gave Kyle a black eye because of you.”
“Well you really need to control those violent tendencies you have,” she scolded sitting beside him on the bed. “You might end up with a reputation.” He scoffed at the irony of her comment. She smiled a deep warm smile and although he hated to admit it, Kid could see how his partner had been drawn to her. She was beautiful. She had dark eyes and her long black hair was piled up on top of her head, with just a few wisps hanging beside her face. She wore a blue dress with a fine grey pattern on it. It was pulled in tight at her waist accentuating her feminine shape. He was sure Heyes still felt something for Mrs. Elizabeth Darkly. She was a dangerous combination of brains and beauty with a slightly amoral nature. No wonder she fascinated his friend.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Better.” He thought for a moment. “Thank you. For keepin’ an eye on Preacher.”
“He didn’t need it after all. He cares about you too much. He said he wouldn’t have attempted it, if he didn’t feel capable, or his hand wasn’t steady.” She met his blue gaze. “They all care about you; even Wheat, although he’d never admit it to you.”
“What are you doin’ here?” Kid asked pulling himself into a sitting position. She fussed behind him arranging the pillows to support him and she noted him keeping a firm hold on the sheets that covered him. Elizabeth smiled at his embarrassment. He looked at her and she knew he was still waiting for an answer.
“Making sure you found Milton Fisher,” she told him and pieces of Heyes’ jigsaw slowly fell into place.
“You hired Victoria Kettering? You’re the mystery employer?”
“Yes, I am,” Elizabeth admitted.
“But why? Why the big mystery? Why not just ask us for help?”
“Because you would never have taken the job. The merest mention of my name and you would have run in the opposite direction. But a little mystery? Well I knew Hannibal Heyes couldn’t resist that.” Kid knew she was right about that too. Elizabeth stood up, walked to the window and looked out. Kyle and Lobo were trying to get a mule into the distant stable. The mule had no intention of doing what the two men wanted and a lot of pulling and pushing on their part had no effect on the animal. She smiled, watching Kyle curse. The Devil’s Hole Gang were an odd bunch of men and it was difficult to see them as infamous and feared, let alone successful. How they had managed to stay out of jail after Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry left, she did not know. Wheat must be smarter than she gave him credit for.
“So why d’you want us?” Kid asked.
“To do just what Victoria told you, and to escort Milton Fisher to Denver. I was asked to find two reliable men, good with a gun and I instantly thought of you two.” She turned back to face him.
“Asked by who?”
“Silas de Milo.” Kid had no idea who the man, with the fancy sounding name, was. She knew she would have to explain. “He lives in Boston. His daughter Beatrice was at the same school as my sister, Eloise. You remember Eloise?” Kid gave a nod. Oh, yes, he remembered Elizabeth’s sister, and the time they had spent helping to rescue her. Not that Eloise had wanted to be rescued. She had been happy to stay with Evan Crow until there was no chance of getting any money from her family. That was another meeting with Elizabeth Darkly, which had left Kid and Heyes, battered and bruised.
“Beatrice was murdered by her boyfriend George Zachary,” Elizabeth continued. “And Milton, or rather Edgar Hallingham, to use his real name, saw him do it. Edgar was a tutor to Beatrice’s brother. He was at the house and saw George throw Beatrice down the stairs. George ran and his family threatened Edgar. The de Milo’s sent Edgar west. When George was caught, they needed someone to fetch Edgar and escort him safely back. Everyone looked to me, the scarlet woman who had travelled throughout the West. Surely I would know someone with suitable characteristics, who knew the West, how it worked and how to be discrete; however unsavoury these men might be?” She smiled at Kid. “And you two just sprung into my mind.”
“Unsavoury, yet suitable, huh?” Kid asked, raising his eyebrows in amusement and Elizabeth nodded. “Didn’t you think George’s family would be watching you?”
“I did. That’s why I employed Victoria,” Elizabeth explained. “To throw anyone watching me off the scent, so to speak.”
“But when Milton…I mean Edgar gets back to Denver…” he left her to fill in the gaps.
“The de Milo’s have already employed the services of some very reliable bodyguards. He will be met at the station and they will escort him back to Boston.”
“Why not just send the bodyguards out here?” Kid asked.
“Too conspicuous, according to Silas.”
“Except I’m here and we aren’t escortin’ him back to Denver because no one told us that’s what we had to do.” She looked at him. She had not exactly overlooked that part. “And Heyes is only takin’ him as far as Porterville.”
“I know. I didn’t want Victoria to know about Denver. I thought once you met Edgar, he would convince you to take him all the way there. It was a gamble on my part. That’s where plan B comes into play.”
“Plan B?” Kid asked. No wonder Heyes liked this woman she even thought like him.
“Oh I learnt that from your partner. Always have a plan B.”
“You got a plan B?” he asked sceptically.
“Sort of,” she told him and he gave her an understanding smile. Not many people did have a plan B. “But I hoped you’d help him, once you knew the full story and Edgar was bound to tell you, once he grew to trust you.”
“This still doesn’t explain why you’re here and not waitin’ for us in Porterville or Denver,” he told her.
“I trusted you, but only so far. So I watched you. I was in Buffalo Wells when you rode in. I didn’t want to stay in town in case I was followed and you saw me or someone connected us. So I came here.”
“You’re too far away here, to be keeping an eye on us,” he pointed out.
“Oh alright, I’ll admit it. I wanted to see Devil’s Hole. I heard so much about it, when I was doing my research on you and Hannibal. When I saw you two in Buffalo Wells, I knew you’d do the job you were asked to. There was no need for me to stay and then it seemed like a waste to be so near to Devil’s Hole and not take a look.”
“You took a big risk,” he informed her. “You could have been killed. You had no idea who was here. Not every outlaw is as nice as Kyle, Wheat or any of the boys. And those that wouldn’t kill a woman alone would…well you took a risk.” She knew what he meant.
“I know, but that’s what I do. What I’ve done ever since…” but she did not elaborate.
“Since what?” Kid asked.
“Since I got a taste for the West,” she said dismissively but he knew she was lying. It was something else. Something had happened; something that she did not want to talk about, but which had affected her deeply. “You’re right, it was dangerous but I was lucky. Wheat is a charming host.”
“How d’you talk your way in here? Women aren’t allowed in Devil’s Hole,” Kid told her knowing there had to be more to it.
“Hannibal Heyes’ fiancée is,” she smiled, as he stared at her. “Especially if she’s carrying his baby.” Kid’s mouth dropped open, as she patted her stomach.
“What’s the matter Kid? Are you jealous? Should I have told them it was yours?” he could not believe the audacity of this woman.
“You are truly unbelievable,” he told her.
“I try my best,” she smiled and Kid looked at her, suddenly struck by a terrifying thought.
“You’re not are you? I mean you’re not…you know?”
“Pregnant?” she said and he nodded. “Now what sort of question is that to ask a lady?”
“You and Heyes… I mean, I know he..I mean…you and he…” he didn’t know what to say. She lost patience with him.
“Oh, for goodness sake! No, I am not pregnant! Work it out. If I had been and it was Heyes’. Well I saw you last, when?” Kid thought about this. “Don’t you think it would show by now?” Kid smiled embarrassed but relieved.
“Wait a minute,” he said suddenly. “What if someone was followin’ you?”
“That’s another reason why I hid here. There were a couple of men on my trail for a while but I lost them.”
“Are you sure?” he asked and she saw the doubt in his eyes. It was enough to make her doubt herself, which made Elizabeth uncomfortable.
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure I lost them.” But Kid now saw the doubt in her eyes too and she sounded less than convincing.
“What if they knew you were here and just waited and watched to see what you did?” Kid’s mind raced ahead. “In which case, they may well have seen Heyes and Milt…Edgar ride on alone.” Kid’s eyes shot up to meet hers. “We have to get to Heyes before they do.”
“We don’t know that there is a ‘they’ do we,” she told him.
“Well you said there was and I can’t take the chance that they’re not still out there. Kyle!” he yelled.
There was the sound of running and the scruffy man put his head around the door.
“Ya want somethin’ Kid?”
“I need my horse saddled,” Kid told him and Kyle looked confused.
“Well, Kid I don’t think ya should be ridin’.”
“Just do it Kyle!” Kid yelled raising his voice more than he intended. “Please,” he added weakly.
“I don’t think Heyes would want ya to…”
“Kyle, Heyes is in danger. If you don’t saddle my horse…” he left the rest unsaid and Kyle knew not to pursue it further.
“Okay Kid,” he said disappearing out of the door and ran to find Wheat.
Kid looked at Elizabeth.
“If they’re bein’ followed, I hope, for your sake, I get there in time.”
“You’re crazy,” she said. “You’re in no condition to ride.”
“My partner could be in trouble. I’ll get there if it kills me,” he said firmly.
“Which it may well do,” she countered.
“I need some clothes,” he stated. “There are some in my saddlebags.” She met his gaze.
“So let’s see you get them,” she said. “If you can get your own clothes, I guess you must be able to ride to Porterville.” He sighed. They both knew he was too weak to travel but she also knew there would be no stopping him trying.
“Elizabeth, please.” His blue eyes met hers and for once there was no trace of the antagonism so often between them.
“Alright, I’ll get them,” she relented. “But I’m going with you.” Kid knew there was no way he could argue with her.
Whilst Elizabeth went to find Kid’s clothes, Kyle returned with Wheat. As he entered the room the Gang’s leader did not look pleased by the news, his second-in-command had delivered.
“Kyle says you want ya horse saddled,” Wheat stated. “Plannin’ on goin’ for a ride?”
“I have to get after Heyes,” Kid told him, struggling to sit up in bed.
“Plannin’ on killin’ y’self too?” Wheat asked casually.
“No Wheat, not if I can help it.”
“You ain’t in no condition to ride Kid,” Wheat pointed out. The blond man sighed and went on to explain how there was a real possibility that Heyes was being followed.
“I hafta help him Wheat,” Kid stated.
“You ain’t well enough to make that trip,” Wheat told him.
“Let me be the judge of that. Wheat if you try to stop me, and something happens to Heyes…” he left the rest unsaid. Wheat knew, all too well, how Kid would feel if that happened and heaven help the man who’d stopped Kid then.
“Alright,” the leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang said. He turned to Kyle. “Saddle his horse.”
“You sure Wheat?” Kyle Murtry asked.
“I’m sure. Hannibal Heyes is in trouble and the Devil’s Hole Gang is going to help him out.” He looked down at Kid and the blond-man nodded a thank you. Kyle was glad Wheat had decided they would all go, because he had promised Heyes, that he would look after Kid. Wheat Carlson liked the idea of riding to the rescue of Hannibal Heyes because of the reputation that would give him. Kid was just grateful for their help.
“Alright men mount up,” Wheat told the Devil’s Hole Gang and they pulled themselves into the saddle. Elizabeth Darkly, dressed in jeans, crisp white shirt and a black cowboy hat, pulled herself onto her horse. Kid stood beside his and looked up at the saddle, as if it was a mountain to climb. The rest of the gang sat patiently on their horses, waiting, as Kid put one hand on the saddle horn. He turned the stirrup around and looked at it ,wishing it was another three feet lower. Sweat ran down his temple and his breathing was a little fast.
“Alright there Kid?” Kyle asked with concern.
“Sure Kyle. Fine,” Kid told him.
“Gonna get on ya horse Kid?” Wheat asked.
“In my own time, Wheat,” Kid assured him.
“Only I thought we woz in kind of a hurry?” Wheat commented.
“We are Wheat, we are,” Kid told him patiently, still making no attempt to mount up. Wheat edged his horse closer. Kyle had helped Kid limp from the cabin to his horse. Now Kid was leaning against the animal. Wheat saw the sweat on Kid’s face and leaned down.
“You alright Kid?” he asked, his voice little more than a whisper.
“I will be.”
“You need a hand to get up?” Wheat asked, still whispering.
“I’d appreciate that Wheat,” Kid said and both men knew help was not something Kid would willingly ask for. Wheat slid from the saddle.
“Ready?” Wheat asked and Kid nodded. Wheat boosted the blond man onto his horse. Kid gritted his teeth, clearly in pain, but said nothing. Everyone knew he should be in bed, not setting out on a two day ride, but no one expected him to stay behind either.
“Alright men,” Wheat called. “Let’s ride.” They turned their horses away from the cabins and Preacher stood watching them, as they rode off. Wheat looked at Elizabeth and tipped his hat.
“Oh ‘scuse me Miss. Elizabeth. Ladies too o’course. No offence meant.”
“That’s all right Wheat. None taken.”
“Ma’am you gonna be alright to ride? I mean with the baby an’ all?” Elizabeth put her hand on her stomach and smiled at him.
“Oh don’t worry Wheat, me and this little fella will be fine.” He gave her a smile and they rode off. Having overheard their conversation, Kid Curry gave his head a shake of disbelief. She really was something.
When they left the protection of Devil’s Hole, Wheat sent Hank into Buffalo Wells with instructions to send a telegram to Lom Trevors. Wheat and Kid had discussed what the message should say. Hank would catch up with them, as soon as he could.
They rode relatively slowly and after an hour or so at an almost unbearable pace Kid could take no more. He edged his horse close to Elizabeth’s.
“If you don’t tell them you’re not pregnant I will,” he whispered, through gritted teeth. “At this pace it’ll take us two weeks, to reach Porterville, not two days,” he hissed.
“They’re not doing it because of me,” she told him bluntly, looking down at his leg. Kid saw what she and the others had noticed. The material of the spare jeans, Elizabeth had found in his saddle bags, was stained red as blood from the wound soaked through. Kid urged his horse forward and pulled alongside Wheat Carlson.
“Wheat, we have to go faster,” Kid told him.
“Don’t wanna tire the horses Kid,” Wheat replied casting an eye at Kid’s injured leg.
“I’m fine Wheat,” Kid assured him. “Elizabeth’s fine too. Please, we have to get to Heyes.”
“Well alright, if you’re sure you two are gonna be okay?”
“If we’re not we’ll let you know.” The Gang leader called to his men and their horses finally broke into a gallop and the miles disappeared beneath their hooves.
Later, as they rode slowly once more, to rest the horses, Kyle Murtry eased his horse, alongside Kid Curry’s, and gave him a smile. He was chewing, as always on a wad of tobacco.
“You alright, Kid?” Kyle asked.
“Fine Kyle,” Kid assured him but Kyle kept grinning at him. “What is it Kyle?”
“Nothin’. Jus’ toll Heyes I’d look out fur ya.”
“I appreciate that Kyle. Heyes will too,” Kid said and that brought an even bigger grin from the scruffy little man. Kid felt a twinge of guilt as he saw Kyle’s bruised left eye. “How’s the eye?”
“Oh it’s okay.”
“Sorry about that,” Kid told him, honestly.
“Hell Kid, you weren’t t’know.” He smiled again. “Got me a real funny story t’tell now. How Kid Curry thought I’d taken a likin’ to him, if you know what I mean?”
“I’d sort of appreciate it if you didn’t tell that story Kyle. Especially not to Heyes. I don’t think folks would understand.”
“Well okay, Kid. If’in you reckon?” Kyle said, clearly disappointed.
“I do, Kyle.” Kid hoped it was an episode they could both forget. Before he could say anymore, they spotted a rider, approaching at speed. Everyone relaxed, when they realised it was Hank. He pulled his horse sharply to a halt when he reached them.
“D’you send off the telegram?” Wheat asked.
“No, I couldn’t,” the man said as he shook his head.
“Why not?” Kid asked with concern. If Wheat hadn’t given him enough money he would…
“The line’s down. They’re sending someone out to try and fix it. I thought it best if I caught you up.” Hank informed him. Wheat and Kid exchanged a look. Both men thinking that, the loss of the telegraph, was more than a coincidence. If they could not get a message to Lom, who knew what trouble Heyes could be riding into?
“How much further?” Edgar asked as they rode their horses across a shallow river. Heyes looked at the school teacher; he was exhausted.
“Not much further, Edgar,” he assured him. “We have to keep goin’.”
“I know,” the tall man said. “I just wondered that’s all.” He urged his horse out of the water and Heyes felt guilty, wishing he could give the man the rest he clearly needed. It was not Edgar’s fault that they had been chased by a posse, shot at and had a run in with the Devil’s Hole Gang. Life had certainly grown more exciting for the school teacher from back east since meeting the two men supposedly sent to get him home safely.
It became obvious by the time they stopped for the night, that Kid was not as fine as he continued to assure everyone he was. His face was pale, his eyes heavy and his breathing rapid and shallow. Kid sat in the saddle for a long time after the others had dismounted. He leaned forward, his shoulders low. Elizabeth went to help him but Wheat caught her by the arm and stopped her.
“Let ‘im be,” the Gang’s leader said quietly, as he gave a slight shake of his head. She stepped back, allowing Kid the time his friends felt he needed. Eventually, Kid dropped from his saddle and, when his right leg hit the floor, cried out in pain. Heads snapped round to check that their friend was okay but no one said a word. The blond man leaned against his horse to steady himself; his head against the saddle. Elizabeth could stand by no longer and, leaving the others, she approached Kid.
“You need to have someone take a look at your leg,” Elizabeth said, as she came up behind him. Kid did not turn around. He knew she was right.
“I know,” he said, still not turning around. He knew the wound had opened up again. He had felt it pulling apart as they rode. He had felt his blood warm on his skin, as it ran down his leg. He knew it would need a new bandage but all he could think of was Heyes. His partner and Milton Fisher, or rather Edgar Hallingham, were riding to Porterville oblivious of Zachary’s family plotting to stop them reaching Denver. Maybe nobody was chasing them nor lying in wait, but he had to warn Heyes, just in case. If the warning was too late, he hoped he would arrive in time to help him whatever way he could. He just hoped his body would let him get there.
However, at that moment he was not sure if he could put any weight on his right leg, without it collapsing. Elizabeth put a hand on his shoulder, startling him from his thoughts. Kid spun around.
“Elizabeth I don’t…” but the world kept spinning and Elizabeth Darkly became a blur. Kid’s eyes began to close.
“Wheat!” Elizabeth cried, as Kid collapsed and she struggled to hold him up. Wheat and Kyle were quickly at her side. They took Kid from her and carried him to where Lobo had begun to build the fire. Laying Kid down, Kyle went to find fresh bandages.
“He shouldn’t be ridin’,” Lobo said, looking down at the unconscious man.
“We all know that Lobo,” Wheat told him sharply. “You wanna be the one t’tell Kid Curry he can’t go, when he thinks Heyes needs help?” Lobo shook his head and returned to the fire. The others exchanged looks. There was nothing they could do, except ride at a pace that was best for Kid.
“If he kills himself tryin’ to get to Porterville, Heyes will never let us hear the last of it,” Wheat said and everyone nodded their agreement.
The sheriff’s office was in darkness, when they reached Porterville, so Heyes led the way to Lom’s house on the outskirts of town. It was a small two storey building. No lights were burning in the house. They took the two steps up to the porch and Heyes knocked loudly on the front door. Then they both stepped back, to allow them a good view of the upstairs bedroom window.
Sheriff Lom Trevors was peacefully asleep, dreaming of a day spent fishing beside a gently flowing river. He was about to cast the line into the clear water, when a loud banging noise broke through and pulled him back to reality. Locating his gun beside the bed, he got up and looked cautiously out of the window. Two men stood in front of the house. Both wore hats that shielded their faces but even in the moonlight, one hat was all too familiar. Two faces looked up at the window, one spotted his shape behind the curtain and gave a wide grin.
“Lom!” Heyes called in a loud whisper. “Open up! It’s me!” Lom sighed. The banging on his door started again.
“Alright! Alright!” he called. “I’m coming!” Lom lit a lantern, pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, then searched for his boots. He buckled on his gun belt, as he descended the stairs. “This had better be important,” he growled, as he opened the door and Heyes entered the hallway.
“Howdy Lom,” Heyes said.
“What the hell are you doing here at this time of night?” the sheriff demanded to know. The man with Heyes stood back politely, waiting to be invited in. Heyes beckoned him inside and the sheriff shut the door. He looked at Heyes, waiting for an explanation, wondering who this man was and where Kid was too. “Well, what is it?”
Heyes face took on a serious look.
“They think we robbed the bank in Wilson Creek. You have to let the Governor know that it wasn’t us. Kid’s been shot; I need to get him a doctor. And this is Milton Fisher, or should I say Edgar Hallingham, the man the documents were for. He witnessed a murder and you have to get him safely to Denver.” Heyes finished and Lom stood opened mouthed and thought for a moment.
“Did you?” he asked, his voice taking on the well practiced tone of a lawman.
“What?” Heyes asked.
“Did you rob the bank?” he had his hand on his gun, even though it was back in its holster.
“No of course we didn’t!” Heyes said indignantly. “In fact the bank wasn’t robbed, merely broken into. The safe wasn’t touched but I think I was recognised by the sheriff leading the posse. So if he put two and two together, he came up with the wrong answer.”
“How do you know the bank wasn’t robbed, unless you were there?” Lom wanted to know.
“Inside information, you might say,” Heyes told him. “Please trust me Lom, it wasn’t us.”
“The posse chased us and they shot Mr. Curry,” Edgar Hallingham added. Lom looked stunned at his use of Kid’s real name. He looked at Heyes.
“It’s alright Lom, he knows who we really are.”
“Kid’s been shot? How bad?” Lom could tell how worried the dark-haired young man was. He knew what it would take to make him leave his friend at such a time.
“He was hit in the leg,” Heyes told him.
“So where is he?” the lawman wanted to know.
“Devil’s Hole.” Heyes didn’t like the expression that appeared on Lom’s face.
“You’d better tell me exactly what’s been happening,” Lom said and led the way into the sitting room.
“The next train that will get you to Denver arrives tomorrow at noon,” Lom told Hallingham, then looked at the wall clock. It was 3 am. “Or rather today. Doctor King is in town, so I’ll have a word with him. See what we can do for Kid.” He looked at the dark-haired man, knowing how worried he was about his friend.
“What about the Governor?” Heyes asked.
“I’ll send a telegram as soon as the office opens; explain what’s happened. It’s probably best I don’t know who you think really did it, although I have a pretty good idea.” Heyes said nothing as Lom looked from one man to the other. They both looked tired. Heyes had dark circles under his eyes and he looked about ready to drop. “You had any sleep?” Lom asked him and Heyes shook his head, causing Edgar Hallingham, to feel a pang of guilt.
“Alright, you two get some sleep, then a little later this morning, I’ll rustle up some breakfast and we can discuss what we’re going to do next.” He saw the look on Heyes’ face. “What?” he asked, knowing there was more.
“I think we were followed.” Heyes stated flatly.
“Did you see anyone?” Lom asked.
“No. It was just a feeling but Kid and I have had that feeling enough times to know when someone’s watchin’ us.”
“Alright. You two sleep. I’ll keep watch. I don’t suppose I’ll get back to sleep now anyway and the bed will be cold.” Heyes gave him a grateful look but was still troubled. Lom raised his eyes, waiting to hear what was on the other man’s mind.
“It’s been nearly two days , Kid…”
“If he’s with the boys, they’ll look after him, you know that. Right now, you have to get some sleep. You’ll be no good to anyone if you can’t sit in the saddle.” Heyes nodded, accepting that the lawman was right. Hallingham was shown to the guest room, where there was a single bed, whilst Heyes stayed downstairs and settled himself onto the couch. He would not take Lom’s bed, insisting that he wanted to be ready, in case something happened. Lom gave him some blankets, then went into the kitchen.
Lom sat in a chair, at the kitchen table, listening to the wind blow outside, as he considered all Heyes had told him. If Heyes’ gut feeling was right, and it usually was, there could be someone watching the house even now. He looked out of the window. The moonlight cast an eerie glow, and the wind in the trees blew the shadows around, but he saw no one out there. His gun lay on the table. Lom sat and waited.
Sometime later he looked in on Heyes and found the dark-haired young man sound asleep on the sofa. His hat had fallen on the floor and, picking it up, Lom placed it on a nearby table. He would let his friend sleep for as long as he could; there was no doubt he needed it. As Heyes slept, Lom sat in the kitchen keeping guard.
The next morning, Kid opened his eyes to see Kyle looking down at him.
“Mornin’ Kid,” Kyle said and smiled, revealing a mouth full of crooked teeth. His left eye was bruised and looked painful.
“Mornin’ Kyle,” Kid replied, pulling himself up onto his elbows. The leg of his jeans felt stiff with dried blood. They had cut the material to tend and bandage the wound. At this rate he would run out of jeans before they reached Porterville.
“Thought you might want one?” Kyle held out a coffee cup and Kid nodded. Thanking his friend, he took the cup and sipped it slowly. Refreshed by the coffee, and a night’s sleep, Kid eased himself into a sitting position. His leg ached but felt better. Eventually, with Kyle’s help, he got to his feet. Kid limped slowly to the fire where Wheat, Lobo and Hank sat talking. Elizabeth’s sleeping form was still hidden, beneath a blanket. Kid grimaced, as he eased himself down onto a fallen tree trunk the men had pulled beside the fire. The other men nodded a greeting. Each man had been watching to see that their friend was alright.
“I appreciate your help Wheat,” Kid told the Devil’s Hole Gang leader, as they sat staring into the flames.
“Doin’ it for Heyes too,” Wheat told him and took a swallow of his own coffee.
“I thought you two didn’t see eye to eye,” Kid said lightly, as he looked at the dark-haired man.
“Don’t mean I won’t help an ex-gang member when he’s in trouble,” Wheat told him and Kid accepted this.
“Wheat, you let a woman into Devil’s Hole. Why?” Kid asked after a while.
“Well she’s Heyes’ fiancée.” Kid said nothing. “When we saw her ridin’ in we were suspicious. Sure was a beautiful woman though. So we waited t’see what she was doin’. She explained how she was lookin’ for Heyes an’ that her search had brought her to Devil’s Hole. We told her Heyes wasn’t there no more and then she almost fell off her horse, faintin’.”
“Elizabeth fainted?” Kid asked, imagining her feigning that too.
“Nearly,” Wheat told him. “Then she told us about the baby an’ all. Well we couldn’t just leave her there. So we took her back to the cabins.”
“Wheat you don’t know her,” Kid began but the dark-haired man interrupted him.
“Oh don’t worry, we’ll take care o’her,” Wheat assured him. “I jus’ hope Heyes treats her right when he finds out about the baby.”
“Wheat, you see, she’s not…”
“Oh I know they ain’t married, but she seems like a real nice lady. I think she’ll be a good mother too. Hell, we ain’t got no right to judge her or Heyes. Folks get thrown together in all sorts o’situations.” Kid was waiting for a chance to get a word in.
“That’s very kind of you Wheat,” Elizabeth said, as she walked towards them, her blanket around her shoulders. The Gang seated around the fire smiled at her. She gave Kid a look. He shot back one of his own. The men made room for her and she sat on the log, between Hank and Lobo.
“Elizabeth, you have to tell them,” Kid said firmly.
“Kid, please. I know there was something between us, but this is Heyes’ baby and you’re just going to have to accept it.” Kid opened his mouth. She had done it again. Just when he thought he knew what she would do or say, she surprised him. Words failed him.
“Kid, you jealous of your partner?” Wheat asked incredulously. Everyone waited to hear what he had to say.
“Oh, they nearly came to blows,” Elizabeth told them. “I was flattered of course, but it was always Hannibal Heyes for me; from the first time I looked into his deep brown eyes.” Elizabeth smiled sweetly at Heyes’ partner. Kid looked at the men and saw the way they looked at Elizabeth Darkly. They were all besotted with her. He gave up. He just did not have the energy to argue with her.
“Time we moved out,” he stated, shaking his head as they looked at him. He struggled to his feet. Lobo went to help him. “I can manage,” Kid snapped and Lobo stepped back. Kid stormed off, with as much dignified anger as his injured leg would allow.
“Oh don’t worry about Kid,” Elizabeth told the others, as he limped away. “His leg hurts and I think I broke his heart when I chose Heyes instead of him.”
“Well that’s understandable Miss. Elizabeth. I think you’d break ma heart too if you rejected me,” Wheat told her.
“She did not reject me!” Kid called, from where he was trying to roll up his blanket. Elizabeth looked at the men and gave them a look that said, I told you. They nodded in agreement. Kid was clearly a man struggling to control a broken heart.
The smell of coffee roused Hannibal Heyes and he looked up to see Lom Trevors standing over him. Lom held out a cup.
“I thought you could use some coffee.” Heyes moved and discovered his neck was stiff and ached, from being held at an awkward angle, for several hours.
“What time is it?” he asked, as he stretched, trying to undo the knots in his muscles.
“A little after eight.”
“Lom!” Heyes stood up, felt a wave of dizziness as blood rushed to his head and quickly sat down again.
“I let you sleep in. You needed it.” Heyes took the coffee from the sheriff and sipped it. The warm liquid felt good, as it ran down his throat. He looked worried.
“I’m sure Kid will be fine,” Lom said, noticing the far away look Heyes had in his eyes.
“You don’t know that.”
“No, but I know Preacher and I know how much respect the Gang has for Kid. They’d do almost anything for him; for both of you.”
“I’m not sure about Wheat,” Heyes said.
“Especially Wheat,” Lom replied. “Believe me Heyes, you made the Devil’s Hole Gang into something special, which in turn makes them special. They might not thank you to your face but they’ll show it in other ways. Taking care of Kid; that’s one thing they will do.”
“He was bleeding badly, Lom. I shouldn’t have left him.” Heyes put his head in his hands as he rested his elbows on his knees. Lom decided it was best not to let this discussion continue.
“You had no choice. Now c’mon, let’s go see if your friend is awake,” he suggested and pulled Heyes to his feet.
Lom persuaded them both to have breakfast, although Heyes did little more than pick at the food Lom put on his plate. He was eager to get moving.
At the telegraph office, pencil thin Dan Dobson, told them the line was down all the way to Wilson Creek and Buffalo Wells. Heyes and Lom exchanged a look. It was too much of a coincidence.
“I told you I thought we were followed,” Heyes said. Lom sent a message to the Governor reporting that there had, apparently, been a robbery at Wilson Creek, and that it was nothing to do with Hannibal Heyes nor Kid Curry despite news to the contrary. Although with the line down it was unlikely the Governor would have received word from Sheriff Pemberton, just yet. Their next stop was to see Dr. King. He turned out to be a plump, balding, helpful man and he soon went about putting together a bag of supplies, for Heyes to take, when he went back to Kid. Then the three men made their way to the sheriff’s office, where they would wait, until it was time for Edgar to catch the train.
Heyes had agreed to see Edgar safely to the train with Lom before heading back to Kid. It was a decision he was beginning to regret, as he paced back and forth in the sheriff’s office. He wanted to get back to Kid but he also felt some responsibility towards Edgar. He liked the man and wanted to be sure of his safety too. If they had been followed, Lom may well need his help. The decision to postpone the ride back to his partner was tearing at him and so Heyes paced. Edgar shot a glance at the lawman and Lom shook his head. There was no point trying to get Hannibal Heyes to sit down, when he was in this kind of mood.
Lom’s new young deputy, Billy Jordan, would accompany Edgar to Denver. He was a keen, intelligent young man, in his twenties. He would travel with his older brother Matthew, who was six feet tall and built like a house. It also helped that the Jordan brothers were both excellent shots. They would ride as escorts for Edgar. Having met Billy briefly, the school teacher seemed happy with Lom’s decision. Lom sent Billy home, with instructions to pack a few things, fetch his brother, and to meet them at the station in time for the train.
At ten thirty that morning, they made their way along the boardwalk to the station. They wanted to be there long before the train arrived, so that they could be sure no one was watching them, nor lying in wait for Edgar. Heyes already had Dr. King’s supplies in the saddlebags, on his horse. He intended to leave town the moment he had seen Edgar safely on board the train. As they walked along the main street, Heyes and Lom scoured the rooftops and scanned every window for the slightest sign of an ambush. They had just reached the long station building when the first shot rang out, hitting the wall beside Edgar’s head. Two more shots had them running for the safety of the station. A woman nearby screamed and several people ran for cover. On the street, anyone who heard the shooting, headed into the nearest building or store, in an effort to get out of the line of fire. With guns drawn, Heyes and Lom ushered Edgar up the slope, along the platform and into the empty waiting room.
William Duncan crouched behind a barrel in front of the blacksmith’s store and reloaded his gun. He cursed the man who had fired the first shot and missed. Now they would have to get Edgar out of the station building. He had been instructed to bring Edgar Hallingham back to Boston alive. Having caught up with the rest of his men, they had ridden hard to catch up with the school teacher and his dark-haired escort. Arriving in town only a few hours ago, they had soon spotted Hallingham’s large black horse outside the sheriff’s office. Not wanting the law on their trail, if he could avoid it, Duncan had insisted his men wait for the right opportunity. Now, had almost been the right time. He had hoped to approach the men on the platform when Hallingham had no where to run. Now he had a siege on his hands and the possibility of a shoot-out with the sheriff. William Duncan cursed the choices he had made when hiring his men.
“See anyone?” Lom asked, as Heyes peered out of a window.
“No,” the ex-outlaw told him. He had been in this situation too many times. All too often he and Kid, or another member of the gang, had found themselves holed up, waiting for someone to take another shot at them; for a posse to regroup or a bounty hunter to try his luck. Now the adrenaline was flowing through his blood in anticipation of the battle ahead. A bullet broke the window glass and he ducked out of the way. A volley of shots hit the windows on both sides of the building and all three men dived to the floor. Well, it was more than one man out, there that was for sure. Shards of glass and splinters of wood flew around them. Lying on the floor on his belly, Lom crawled across the room and took up a position at a window, on the opposite side of the room to Heyes. With well trained eyes, each man searched the buildings or trees for the shooters. Lom spotted a movement at the blacksmith’s and an arm holding a gun came into view. A shot was fired and Lom returned it causing the man to duck back into the building.
Heyes’ eyes focussed on the trees across the tracks. At least two men were moving through the undergrowth and shots rang out from their direction. Heyes fired off a couple of shots through the window’s broken glass and the men disappeared, behind the nearest trees.
“What can I do to help?” Edgar asked. He did not wear a gun, preferring to use a shot gun or rifle. He felt foolish at being unarmed, sitting on the floor and having the two men protect him.
“Just keep down Edgar. Can’t have you shot now,” Heyes told him kindly but the man still felt a little useless.
“Billy and his brother should be here soon,” Lom announced. “I’ve got two men this side. How about you?”
“Two at least in the trees,” Heyes told him. “I think we…” but more shots rang out cutting off his words. Bullets flew at the building from both sides and more glass and wood shot through the air. There was little glass left in the window by Heyes’ head. He fired off a few shots of his own, and then took a moment to reload. Lom was doing the same. They exchanged a glance. Each man was clearly wondering how many men were actually out there, how long they could hold out, what the men outside might do and when help might arrive.
“You in the station!” Duncan called out. “Hold your fire!”
“This is Sheriff Lom Trevors,” the lawman called. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“Send out Edgar Hallingham and no one else needs to get hurt,” Duncan’s gruff voice called from the blacksmith’s.
“Mr. Hallingham is under my protection,” Lom told him. “Who are you?”
“Just a man doing his job. Send out Hallingham, or we’ll have to come get him.”
“Why d’you want him?” but the man clearly did not want a long conversation with the sheriff and the sound of gunfire filled the air. The men in the station ducked again. Lom looked at Heyes.
“You’re supposed to have a silver tongue. Do you want to have a go?”
“I’ll give it a try Lom,” Heyes said, smiling. “Hey, you out there. How much are you being paid for Hallingham? I’m sure we can make a deal. I bet we could get you more.”
“Heyes, we are not going to pay these men to leave!” Lom hissed but Heyes gave him a look and the sheriff realised his mistake. Edgar was also looking worried and Heyes shook his head, to reassure the man, that there was nothing to worry about.
“We already have a deal,” the man at the blacksmith’s called back. “Now are you sending him out or do we hafta come in and get him?”
“He stays here,” Lom called back and the firing started again. Lom cried out and leapt backwards as a splinter of wood hit his cheek. He rubbed at the cut it made with the back of his hand, spreading blood across his face. Riled, he fired off several shots through the broken window.
After several more exchanges, Heyes reached into his gun belt, took out some bullets and reloaded his gun yet again. He now knew, there were three men across the tracks. One man crept closer but a couple of well aimed shots from Heyes sent him back into the bushes.
“How many bullets you got left?” Lom asked, reaching around his back, to take another bullet from his belt..
“Well now that you mention it Lom,” Heyes began in a light note, not having wanted to bring the subject up. “Not many. You?”
“A few,” Lom told him, equally vague. But they could see each other’s gun belts and knew there were very few left. “Billy and Matt should have been here by now. I don’t know what’s keeping them.”
“We’d better make these count then,” Heyes stated and then spotted another movement.
The train was still an hour away.
That morning they rode faster from the start and made good progress. Kid had made sure his leg was well bandaged and he was feeling so much better. His leg still hurt like hell but the bleeding had stopped, for now at least. For her part, Elizabeth was a good horsewoman and gave the men no reason to worry at the pace they were setting.
They reached Porterville a little before noon. The sound of gunfire greeted them as they rode into town. Kid and Wheat exchanged a worried look and urged their horses in the direction of the shooting. It led them to the train station. The Devil’s Hole Gang pulled their horses to a halt and each man took a moment, to assess the situation.
They could see two men firing at the station building. One had taken up a position in the corral next to the tracks; the other, a thin faced man, in a battered black hat, peered out from the blacksmith’s workshop, on the other side of the station. More shots rang out from the trees across the track. They had no idea how many men were hiding there.
“Sheriff, send out Hallingham. This is your last chance,” the man at the blacksmith’s called. “You can’t have many bullets left. We’d hate to hafta kill ya.” Hearing this told Kid all he needed to know. Edgar and Lom were in the station, which meant Heyes was most likely in there too.
Kid signalled to Wheat. He was to take the man at the blacksmith’s. With a gesture from the blond man Kyle, Lobo and Hank headed down an alley and off to the trees beyond the station. Kid turned to Elizabeth and handed her the reins of his horse.
“Try to stay out of the way, please,” he said, knowing she was unlikely to want to.
“Alright,” she told him although he was not sure that she would. She took the reins he held out. Kid dropped from the saddle and cursed as his leg hit the ground. Trying to ignore the pain that shot through his leg, with every footstep, Kid limped along the boardwalk. He stumbled and, his knees hitting the hard wood, sent more shockwaves through his body, as he felt the wound open up.
“Damn it!” he cursed again, angry at feeling so hampered by his own body, and as he stealthily approached the man in the corral, his temper rose. A shot was fired from the station towards the trees, on the other side of the tracks. At the same time returning shots rang out. The man in the corral did not see Kid creeping up behind him, focussed as he was on moving closer to the station building. He edged along the fence and then it was too late. He heard the click of a hammer and felt the chill of cold metal, as Kid placed his gun against the man’s temple.
“Put the gun down,” Kid ordered, through gritted teeth, and the man did as he was told. Kid picked up the gun and tucked it into the waist of his jeans. Kid was just trying to decide what to do with the man when, keeping her head down, Elizabeth crept towards him. She carried the rifle she had removed from her saddle.
“I thought I told you to…” but Kid knew it was a waste of time. He shook his head in resignation, as she smiled at him. “Keep him quiet,” he instructed and Elizabeth pointed the rifle at the man. The man did not like the look the woman gave him.
“Lom!” Kid called towards the railway building. “Lom, you in there?”
“Thaddeus, that you?” the lawman called back, clearly pleased and surprised to hear his friend.
“Yeah, Lom. Is Joshua with you?” Kid asked.
“Yeah, I’m here, Milton too.” Heyes called out, wondering how Kid had made it to Porterville and glad to hear he was alive.
More shots rang out from the trees. Kid saw Wheat moving towards the man in the blacksmiths, who was trying to see, why his friend at the corral, had stopped firing and who the man calling out was. He did not see the leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang slowly approaching.
“Howdy,” Wheat said casually and the man spun around. Wheat promptly hit him over the head, with the butt of his gun. The man dropped to the ground and Wheat gave his boots a kick, satisfied to see that, William Duncan, was out cold. Wheat gave Kid a triumphant thumb’s up.
Shots were fired from the trees across the tracks and a cry was heard. There was the sound of running through the undergrowth, horses’ hooves thundering on the hard ground and then a scuffle.
“Oowee! We got ‘em!” Kyle yelled. “Kid! Wheat!. We got ‘em!”
“Bring ‘em out Kyle,” Wheat called, as he walked towards the station, and two men were shoved into the open and onto the rail tracks. The rest of the Devil’s Hole Gang followed them. Ever cautious, Kid looked around before breaking cover. No more shots were fired and he detected no further movement across the tracks. Kid stood up.
“Stay here. Just in case,” he told Elizabeth and she nodded, meaning it for once, not wanting to give him anything to worry about. Kid limped towards the station. As they approached, the waiting room door opened and Lom, Heyes and Edgar Hallingham walked cautiously out. They looked relieved to see their friends. Hannibal Heyes smiled when he saw his blond-haired friend limping towards him.
“Not dead then?” Heyes stated, his words hiding how pleased he was to see his partner alive and well, even as he took in his pale face and the, now bloody, bandage around his leg.
“Not yet,” Kid replied, grinning at his best friend, equally pleased to see him alive and well. He put a hand on the station wall to steady himself.
As the men gathered on the platform, a sudden shot rang out. Heyes pushed Edgar to one side. Kid saw a flash of sunlight on metal and spun, his gun swiftly in his hand, and fired into the trees. Someone cried out and, there was a snap of twigs and rustle of leaves, as a man dropped from the branches of a large tree. Hank ran towards the fallen man, who lay on the ground holding his right arm, where Kid’s bullet had hit him.
“I think my arm’s broke,” the man whimpered at Hank.
“Oh shut up!” Hank said unsympathetically. “You should be glad you ain’t dead. Now git up.”
Kid watched as Hank, took the man’s gun, pulled him into the open, dragged him across the tracks and pushed him down next to the other men. Assured that the man was disarmed Kid turned back to the station platform and his face dropped. Lom and Edgar stood over the slumped form of Hannibal Heyes.
“Heyes!” Kid cried and, ignoring the pain in his leg, ran to his friend’s side. Edgar stood back allowing Kid to reach his partner. “Heyes?” Kid said with concern; his eyes scanning his partner’s body for any injury. It stopped at the blood stain on Heyes’ left shirt sleeve. Heyes winced as Lom tore open the sleeve and examined the wound. The sheriff pulled off his bandana to use as a bandage.
“It’s just a graze,” the sheriff announced, as he tied the bandana around his friend’s arm. Kid met Heyes’ eyes and shook his head, clearly relieved. Heyes knew what thoughts had passed through his cousin’s mind.
“You alright?” Kid asked. He thought Heyes’ looked a little pale.
“Yeah,” Heyes assured him, leaning back against the wall and taking a deep breath. Then he flinched as Lom tightened the bandana. “Get ‘em all?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“If there were five,” Kid stated, watching Lom tend his partner.
“That’s all I counted,” Heyes stated and Lom nodded in agreement.
“Thank you Mr. Heyes,” Edgar said. “I think that bullet was meant for me.”
“You alright Edgar?” Kid asked and Heyes looked at his partner.
“How d’you know his real name?”
“I don’t think you’re gonna believe me,” Kid said cryptically, as Wheat and Kyle approached them.
“Howdy Heyes. You alright?” Wheat asked and his ex-leader nodded.
“Just a graze,” Heyes told him, repeating Lom’s diagnosis. He smiled at his old friend. “How are you Wheat?”
“Doin’ fine Heyes. Doin’ just fine. Say Heyes, have we gotta surprise for you,” Wheat told him. Hannibal Heyes looked at his partner, hoping for an explanation. Kid smiled knowingly. Kid Curry leaned against the wall, taking the weight off his injured leg and prepared to enjoy what was to follow.
“You’re gonna love this,” he told his partner.
“Let her through,” Wheat ordered.
“Her?” Heyes mouthed and Kid gave a slight nod, raised his eyebrows and gave his friend a ‘wait and see’ smile. Hannibal Heyes’ face was a picture of surprise when Elizabeth Darkly walked into view. Heyes said nothing, just shook his head ironically.
“Hello Hannibal,” Elizabeth said, as he looked up at her, and still Heyes seemed lost for words. He certainly had not expected her to be there but it saved him the trouble of explaining that she was involved, to Kid.
“Now don’t you worry Miss. Elizabeth, he ain’t hurt bad,” Wheat assured her. “It’s just a graze. He’ll be fine, ain’t that right sheriff?” Clearly confused, Lom just nodded.
“Well ain’t ya gonna say nothin’ Heyes?” Kyle asked. “After all, she’s havin’ ya baby.” Hannibal Heyes’ mouth dropped open. Kid Curry gave Heyes a wide grin, enjoying the look in his partner’s face.
“W…what?” Heyes finally managed to say.
“That’s right Heyes,” Wheat told him. “Miss. Elizabeth is havin’ ya baby. You’re gonna be a father. Ain’t you gonna say hello to ya fiancée?”
“My what?” Heyes looked at Elizabeth. She smiled sweetly at him.
“Your fee-arn-say,” Kyle said helpfully. Heyes looked at Kid, who smiled but said nothing.
Elizabeth looked at Heyes, meeting his dark brown eyes. Kid looked from one to the other. Everyone waited to see what would happen next.
“Help me up,” Heyes said firmly, and Lom pulled him to his feet. ”I want a word with my…Elizabeth alone.” Heyes grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and pulled her along the platform. Wheat bristled at Heyes’ treatment of the woman he was fond of. He moved to follow them but Kid stood in his way.
“Wheat,” Kid said.
“He’s got no call to hurt her,” Wheat said.
“He won’t,” Kid assured him, although having seen the look on his partner’s face, he wasn’t so sure himself.
“What the hell have you been tellin’ them?” Heyes demanded to know, in a loud whisper, as he pulled Elizabeth Darkly to a halt, a few feet away from the others.
“Hannibal you’re hurting my arm,” she told him, as she struggled in his grip.
“I oughta break it,” he told her, squeezing tighter, until she squirmed. “Now what have you been telling them?” He slackened his grip.
“I needed somewhere to hide and Devil’s Hole was closest,” she began.
“They don’t allow women at…” and then he realised what she had done.
“I told them I was your fiancée and that I was expecting your baby. They have all been very kind to me. Wheat is particularly sweet.”
“Well that’s not somethin’ I’ve heard him called before, but I’ll take your word for it,” he told her. “And they believed you?” He did not need to hear her answer. He knew how easy it would be for someone, with Elizabeth’s charm and ability to lie, to fool the Devil’s Hole Gang. Beside them was a pile of boxes, barrels and sacks waiting to be loaded onto the next train. Heyes sat down on a barrel.
“You don’t seem that surprised to see me,” Elizabeth observed.
“I’m not. Edgar and I worked out who our mystery employer was. I just didn’t expect you to be here.” He thought for a moment, looking her over. “Well are you? Are you expecting a baby? Because if you are, we both know it can’t be mine.”
“Well at least you’re quicker than your partner,” she said and sat down on a box beside him.
“Kid thought…?” he shot his partner a look and gave a sigh.
“I think I had him worried for a while,” she told him. Heyes considered this.
“Why the elaborate plan? Why not just ask us to help Edgar?” he asked.
“If you knew I was involved would you have come to Porterville?” she asked, watching his face to gauge his reaction.
“No,” he told her honestly.
“Then you have your answer.” Heyes thought for a moment.
“So are you pregnant?” he asked.
“No,” she admitted.
“Wheat doesn’t know?” She shook her head. Heyes came to a quick decision. “Well I can’t wait to see how you break the news to him.” He stood up, caught her arm again. “Let’s go tell him now,” he said and, grabbing her arm once more, he marched her back along the platform.
“Hannibal! Please you’re hurting me,” she pleaded but he ignored her.
“Everything alright?” Kid asked as they approached.
“Perfect,” Heyes told him. “Wheat, Elizabeth has something to tell you.” Wheat Carlson walked forward and looked at the dark-haired woman, with sympathy and a little longing.
“Miss Elizabeth, what is it?” there was genuine concern in Wheat’s voice and Heyes momentarily wondered if he was doing the right thing. Elizabeth looked at Kid but he smiled and leaned back against the wall, his arms folded across his chest. She would get no help from the young blond man.
“Wheat I…” they all waited. “I’m not pregnant.” Wheat Carlson looked shocked.
“Oh, Miss Elizabeth. Was it the ride here? Did you lose the baby?” He was swiftly at her side. Kid and Heyes exchanged looks of disbelief. “You should have told me. We didn’t have to ride so fast.” Wheat glared at Kid. Elizabeth smiled sweetly at Mr. Carlson.
“Wheat,” Kid said, his tone one few men would ignore. The leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang looked up at the man standing before him, then at Hannibal Heyes.
“Heyes, I’m really sorry about the baby,” Wheat said looking at his old rival.
“Wheat!” Kid stepped forward. “She’s not pregnant. She never was pregnant!”
“And she’s not my fiancée!” Heyes added. This shocked Wheat even more.
“Heyes you can’t abandon her jus’ coz she ain’t gonna have your baby no more,” Wheat told him indignantly.
“Wheat, she never was my fiancée. She never was going to have a baby.” Wheat looked at Elizabeth and then back at Kid and Heyes. Both men nodded and the truth began to dawn on Wheat Carlson.
“I’m sorry Wheat,” Elizabeth Darkly said, placing a hand on his arm. “I had to tell you something or you would never have let me stay at Devil’s Hole. I never was pregnant and I’m not engaged to Heyes.” The dark-haired man now looked hurt, angry and embarrassed at having been taken in by her lies.
“You shouldn’ta lied to us.” He took a step away from the attractive woman. “I don’t like you makin’ a fool of me and my men.”
“Wheat…” but he walked off, leaving Elizabeth Darkly to watch forlornly. She turned back to face the two ex-outlaws.
“Well don’t look at us,” Heyes told her. “This is your mess.”
“I didn’t want to hurt them,” she said, realising for the first time how true that was.
“Oh damn. How did we miss all the fun?” Billy Jordan asked, as he and his brother Matthew walked towards them, along the station platform. Lom greeted his deputy curtly.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded to know, not having enjoyed being shot at, as his bullets ran out.
“We got caught by my Ma, Sheriff. She wouldn’t let Matt go without his best suit just in case…” he stopped, realising the sheriff was not interested in excuses. “I’m sorry Sheriff,” he said honestly.
“Well you’re here now,” Lom conceded. “Take these men to the jail and make sure you search them thoroughly before you lock them up. Don’t take any nonsense from them Billy,” Lom advised and the young man scurried off to do his job. Lom watched the brothers ushering the five men, including a decidedly groggy William Duncan, towards the jail. Lom knew he would have to deal with the men later and without the help of his deputy.
The train pulled in just after noon. There was a buzz of activity, as passengers stepped out of the carriages to be met by loved ones and friends, post and packages were unloaded and cattle were driven out of the cattle trucks and through the main street. The engineer filled the train’s water tank and the guard busied himself with checking the tickets of the passengers, who had bravely arrived at the station now that the shooting had stopped.
Having locked up the five men, Billy and Matthew Jordan returned and received their final instructions from Lom. They were introduced to Edgar Hallingham and stood to one side waiting for him to say goodbye to his new friends. Edgar shook hands with Kid and then Heyes, thanking them for all their help and protection. Then he gave Elizabeth a smile before joining the two deputies as they boarded the train. Billy set about checking out each carriage in turn for any more signs of trouble and then selected a suitable place for the party to sit during the journey to Denver.
“Miss. Elizabeth, it was real nice you stoppin’ with us for a while,” Wheat said, tipping his hat to the dark-haired woman, who had won a little of his heart and his forgiveness. Elizabeth had taken the outlaw leader aside earlier, in an effort to explain why she had found it necessary to mislead him.
“I’m sorry Wheat, sorry I lied to you,” Elizabeth said again with genuine regret, as they stood a little apart from the rest of the Gang on the platform. Elizabeth Darkly would return to Denver with Edgar and the deputies. She placed her hands on Wheat’s arm and he tensed, a little embarrassed by her forwardness. “Do you forgive me Wheat?” she asked and he crumbled as she turned on her charms.
“Well, I couldn’t be mad at you for long, Miss. Elizabeth,” he replied. “And you give Heyes time, he’ll come around,” he assured her, still believing there was more than a passing friendship between the beautiful woman and the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang.
“Oh, I know he will,” Elizabeth said and she kissed Wheat on the cheek. Wheat turned his back so that the rest of the Gang would not see him blush as she walked away.
Elizabeth smiled, as she approached Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, as the two handsome young ex-outlaws, waited to see her off. Kid sat on one of the barrels, on the platform, and Heyes had his arm in a makeshift sling. They both assured Lom they would see the doctor once Edgar was safely on his way.
“Don’t worry Hannibal, I’ll be back,” Elizabeth said, giving Heyes a seductive smile.
“Oh I don’t doubt it,” he told her.
“Will you wait for me?” she asked.
“Wait for you to do what?” he asked in return.
“You know what I meant,” she scolded.
“So did you,” he countered, giving her a smile that revealed the dimples in his cheeks.
“I think you’ll miss me,” she told him.
“I might, but Kid wouldn’t,” he replied.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that now. Kid and I have a new understanding,” she told him cryptically.
Elizabeth met his gaze, satisfied when she saw his puzzled look, and she turned to face Kid. For his part, the blond man had been quite happy to let her focus all her attention on Heyes, and he began to feel uncomfortable, as her eyes fell on him. Kid pushed himself up off the barrel, but remained leaning against it, taking the weight off his injured leg.
“You look after yourself,” she said with more warmth than he expected.
“Well, I don’t do so badly when you’re not around,” he told her, but he smiled as he said it, his blue eyes meeting hers.
“You know for a time there, I wondered if you and I might…” she let the rest go unsaid.
“Might what?” he asked, suddenly anxious as to what she was going to say. Elizabeth smiled, a certain smile and he looked worried. “Oh no. Don’t you start thinking like that. I can’t afford the trouble you bring. But thank you, for taking care of me,” he said.
“Anytime, cowboy,” she said lightly, and mischievously tilted his hat. She put her hand on his arm. “Goodbye Kid,” she said and kissed his cheek. He looked a little surprised but pleasantly so.
“Goodbye Elizabeth,” Kid said and she turned back to face Heyes.
“Goodbye, Mr. Heyes,” she said, her warm dark eyes fixed on his own. “I’ve only just found you again and now we have to part. I shall have a pain in my heart until I see you again.”
“I still have a pain in my shoulder,” he replied, dryly.
“I told you I was sorry about that, and I still intend to make it up to you.” She leaned towards him. “I’ll count the minutes until I can make it up to you,” she whispered in his ear, her breath warm on his skin. Elizabeth brought her lips, temptingly close to his own. She ran her tongue over her lips and then she kissed him. Her mouth covered his and he did not pull away. Heyes held her arms as the intensity of their kiss grew and, other passengers on the platform, wondered at the young couple, locked in such a passionate embrace. Standing behind them, Kid was beginning to wonder if they ever intended to come up for air, when the guard called out.
Elizabeth broke free and Heyes gave her a lopsided smile. She smiled back and adjusted her hair.
“I’ll see you again Hannibal Heyes,” she whispered and then climbed the steps onto the train. She looked back only once to see the dark-haired man and his blond companion watching her, and then, opening the door to the carriage, she disappeared inside. Both men were left standing on the platform, each lost in his own thoughts as the train pulled out.
Kid looked sideways at Heyes.
“What?” Heyes asked.
“Nothin’,” Kid assured him.
“No, c’mon, what?” Heyes insisted.
“Nothin’,” Kid repeated, pushing himself up off the barrel.
“You’re thinkin’ somethin’,” Heyes told his partner.
“No I’m not,” Kid stated definitely.
“You’re thinkin’ about me and her aren’t you?”
“Heyes, I’m not thinkin’ about you and her.”
“Well I don’t have feelin’s for her, if that’s what you’re thinkin’,” he stated.
“I told you. I’m not thinkin’ about you and her,” the blond-haired man told him.
“Well that’s good,” Heyes said as if finally satisfied.
“Of course now your tryin’ to deny it all the time, well that has got me thinkin’,” Kid said and his partner stared at him.
“See! I told you, you were thinkin’!”
“Heyes, I wasn’t thinkin’ anything until you asked me what I was thinkin’ and now I wouldn’t be thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’ if you hadn’t asked me,” Kid told his partner and the dark-haired man looked at him, somewhat surprised.
“You know Kid, that actually made sense.”
“It did?” Kid looked equally surprised. “Well could you explain it to me because I have no idea what I’m thinkin’ now.”
“Boys.” It was Lom Trevors. He had been standing off to one side, since saying his own goodbye to Mrs. Darkly and had watched their exchange with amusement. They turned to see what their friend wanted. “I think the doctor is waiting and then maybe a drink?”
“Lom,” Heyes told him, placing his right arm around his shoulders. “I like your thinkin’.”
“Oh, you like his thinkin’ but me I’m not allowed to…” Kid looked at his partner. “What?”
“I’m glad you’re not dead Kid,” Heyes told him and Kid smiled.
“So am I Heyes, but next time, if we have a choice, you can be the one that has the bullet dug out of him and I’ll just get grazed. I’m beginning to feel like a Swiss cheese.”
They walked back into town with the sheriff, heading for the doctors office and then the saloon and a beer.
The Devil’s Hole Gang sat on their horses outside Lom Trevor’s office later that day. They did not feel too comfortable being so near to the jail, even if the sheriff had once ridden with the Gang. They had spent the afternoon in the saloon enjoying a few beers, a couple of games of poker and the attentions of the saloon girls. However, everyone agreed that it was better for both Lom and the Gang, if they headed back to Devil’s Hole, and out of Porterville, before nightfall. Lom was eyeing them with professional interest. It grieved him to let known bank robbers go free but they had helped save his life and that of his good friends. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stood beside him. Kid leaned on a wooden post, to take the weight off his leg.
“I meant to ask, what happened to your eye Kyle?” Heyes said, looking up at his scruffy friend, as he sat on his horse.
“Don’t ask!” Kid snapped back, just a little too quickly, and then looked slightly embarrassed.
“Oh, Kid thought I was tryin’…” Kyle began to explain.
“Kyle!” Kid cut him off. Heyes smiled. Now this was something he was going to have to find out about. Kid saw the look on his friend’s face and knew he was not going to hear the last of it.
“Well, I guess it’s time we woz ridin’ out,” Wheat said and he pulled himself into his saddle. “Heyes, you really should think about you and Miss. Elizabeth. She sure is a fine woman. Somethin’ special, don’t you think?”
“Oh she’s somethin’ special alright,” Heyes agreed.
“Let us know if you set a date for the wedding,” Lobo said.
“Very funny Lobo,” Heyes replied, giving him a brief smile.
“For a while there I thought she and Kid might…” Kid shot Kyle a look and Heyes felt obliged to delve a little deeper.
“She and Kid might what, Kyle?” Heyes prompted.
“Well the way she wuz strokin’ Kid’s chest, I thought…” Kyle froze. Kid’s hand had dropped to his side and hung perilously close to his gun. Two blue eyes fixed on the scruffy outlaw and Kyle swallowed. Kyle did not dare say another word and no one else spoke. Heyes was momentarily unsure what his partner was about to do. Surely he was not going to shoot Kyle? And then Kid put his hands on his hips, his shoulders lowered just a little and everyone relaxed.
“Well we’d best be ridin’ out,” Wheat said, breaking the silence and knowing better than to ask what that was all about.
“Thanks once again, Wheat,” Heyes said and Wheat nodded at him. No more words were needed between the pair. Kid gave Kyle a look and the smaller man almost swallowed his tobacco. Kid turned his attention to Wheat.
“I appreciate your help Wheat,” Kid said, as he limped to the man’s side. Wheat leaned down from the saddle and shook the hand Kid offered him. “Thank Preacher for me too.”
“I will, Kid. You take care of ya’self and of Heyes too,” Wheat told him and Kid nodded. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry watched, as the Devil’s Hole Gang turned their horses away and rode out of Porterville.
Heyes looked at Kid and slowly raised an eyebrow.
“It was nothin’ Heyes,” Kid said in a tone that told his friend to drop it. His dark-haired partner pushed back his black hat and continued to look at his blond friend, with a smile on his face. This quickly irritated the young gunslinger. “It was nothin’!” Kid insisted.
Heyes smiled knowingly, enjoying his friend’s discomfort.
“Strokin’ your chest Kid, was nothin’?” he asked.
“I thought it was Kyle!” Kid said and instantly realised that did not improve things. Heyes raised his eyebrows again.
“Kyle?” he said mischievously. “You thought Kyle was strokin’ your chest?”
“That’s not what I meant. It’s not like that,” Kid said, almost pleading with his partner to understand. Heyes headed into the sheriff’s office.
“Oh c’mon Heyes!” Kid implored and limped after his friend.