6 The Shooting of Nathaniel Darkly

The Shooting of Nathaniel Darkly
(The Elizabeth Darkly Series #6)

by Maz McCoy

Kid Curry woke with a headache. Correction, Kid Curry woke with one hell of a headache. His head hurt. Someone was pounding rhythmically on his head with a hammer, or it could have been a pulse thumping away. He would put a bet on the guy with the hammer.

He opened his eyes and groaned as the light hit them. He hoped it had been a good night, because he sure felt awful this morning. Kid held his head in his hands as he lay in the hotel bed. Slowly he eased himself up onto one elbow.

The room spun for a bit and then settled and stopped, for which, both he and his stomach were extremely grateful. Kid pulled himself up against the pillow and noticed a shape in the bed beside him. A head of long soft dark hair lay across the pillow. A delicate naked shoulder showed above the bedclothes. Kid tried to remember who she was. Nothing came back to him. He leaned over trying to catch a glimpse of her face but she was too far round. He sat back, as the woman gave a little moan and shifted position.

Yep, it must have been a good night.

The pounding started again, but it was different this time. Kid realised there was someone at the door.

“Thaddeus!” a voice called from the corridor. “Hey Thaddeus, c’mon wake up!” It was Heyes.

Kid rubbed his eyes and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, as he looked for his gun. His gun belt lay on the table beside the bed instead of hanging from the bedpost. That was unlike him.

As he sat up the world began to spin again, his vision blurred and his stomach gave a flip. Kid thought he was going to be sick at any moment.

Hannibal Heyes stood in the hallway, tired and dusty from his days on the trail. He wondered what was keeping his partner and tried the door handle. A sudden wave of fear ran through him as he found the door unlocked. That was not like Kid. They always locked the door. Heyes drew his gun and slowly, carefully pushed the door open. There was a clatter as something fell to the floor. Heyes froze. He moved cautiously.

He heard a groan, but waited. When there was no sudden hail of bullets, he peeked around the door. Kid sat on the edge of the bed dressed in only his jeans and socks. He held his head in one hand and the other was trying to reach his gun, which lay in his gun belt on the floor.

Heyes scanned the room.

Kid’s shirt and Henley were neatly folded on a nearby chair. Now that wasn’t like Kid either. There was also a woman’s blue dress and shawl draped over the back of the armchair. They looked expensive. The owner was presumably creating the human shaped lump in the bed beside his partner.

Kid rubbed his eyes again, put one hand on the wall to support himself and attempted to pull himself to his feet. He couldn’t do it.

“Thaddeus?” Heyes said with concern. He did not want to use his partner’s real name in case the figure in the bed overheard. Heyes put down his saddlebags and moved to Kid’s side. Kid looked up at him and Heyes saw the difficulty his friend was having just focussing. The pupils in Kid’s blue eyes were larger than he expected. Kid looked lost. “You all right?” Heyes asked his partner.

Kid stood up, unsteady on his feet. He tried to say something, but took two steps forward and then began to retch. Heyes grabbed a basin from the top of a washstand. Kid collapsed onto the chair and then cradled the basin Heyes handed him.

Crouching beside his friend, Heyes noted the glazed look in his partner’s eyes. He had seen Kid drunk before, seen him swaying and staggering after a good night out with the boys back at Devil’s Hole. He’d seen a moodier Kid use alcohol to drown his sorrows too, but his behaviour now was different. He was sure Kid was under the influence of something, but this was no ordinary hangover. Although from the presence of Kid’s female company, he hoped the previous evening been a pleasant one.

“Thaddeus?” Heyes said again.

Kid looked up at his friend.

“I don’t feel too good,” the blond man admitted. He was clearly struggling to gather his thoughts. “Did you just get here?”

“Yeah, I just rode in. Did you get drunk last night?”

“No, I only had a couple of…?” Kid realised he couldn’t remember much of his evening.

“Who’s the lady?” Heyes asked, indicating the bed. Kid looked at the mound of bedclothes, the cascade of dark hair, then back at his partner.

“I don’t remember who she is,” Kid told his friend in an embarrassed whisper.

“Must have been one hell of a night,” Heyes observed, giving his partner a sympathetic smile, but something troubled him. He had an awful feeling that Kid had been drugged.

There was a sudden moan from the bed.

“Who’s there?” a female voice asked.

“I really don’t remember anything. I don’t remember drinking and I certainly don’t remember being with anyone,” Kid said, as the bed clothes began to move.

Heyes frowned. If this was some sort of scam…

At that moment, a head appeared from under the covers. A hand brushed long strands of hair away from her face and the woman turned to face them.

“Oh, good morning boys,” she said.

Heyes’ mouth dropped open in shock.

Smiling at them from Kid’s bed was Elizabeth Darkly.

Seeing her, Kid threw up in the basin.

“Well that’s not the usual affect I have on men, but Kid never was a normal man,” she sighed, as she sat up in bed. Elizabeth was wearing a camisole. The strap had slipped from her shoulder and she moved it back. Heyes found himself watching, as she moved the fabric over her delicate skin then pulled the bedclothes around her. “Hello Hannibal,” she said and Heyes finally closed his mouth. He looked at his partner, who currently had his head over the basin. He looked at Elizabeth.

“Did you two?” he asked and then thought better of it. “No don’t answer that,” he told her.

Kid groaned and Heyes bent down beside his partner.

“Heyes, I’m sorry if I…I mean…If we… but I don’t remember anything,” Kid told him, honestly.

“Looking at you Kid I find that easy to believe,” Heyes replied, then stood up and looked at Elizabeth. She gave him a sweet smile.

“Did you do this to him?” Heyes asked, pointing to the blond man with his head over a basin.

“If you’re suggesting a night spent with me is enough to make him sick, I don’t think that’s very flattering do you?” the dark-haired woman replied.

“I think he’s been drugged,” Heyes stated.

“Oh, so you suggesting I need to drug a man, before he’ll sleep with me, makes it sound better?” Heyes gave her a despairing look. “What do you want me to say? We had a night of amazing passion and I guess I wore him out?”

Heyes tried not to smile at that.

“Or maybe you want to know that he’s a better lover than you?” she continued. Heyes raised his eyebrows at that but did not dignify it with an answer, although she did detect a slight tightening of his jaw.

“Maybe I should be extending my research, Kid. What do you think?” Kid looked at her, weakly.

“Elizabeth,” Heyes said through gritted teeth and the tone in his voice told her he was being serious.

“No I did not do that to him,” she said, pointing to Kid and she saw how worried Heyes was about his partner. Elizabeth slipped from the bed, revealing that she was wearing a pair of lacy under drawers along with the flimsy camisole. Heyes appreciative eyes watched her as, long slender legs and dainty feet carried her towards him. She smiled as she saw his admiring glance.

“I arrived in town late last night,” Elizabeth began to explain. “I was about to sign the register when I saw the name Thaddeus Jones written there. Well you can imagine my surprise.” Kid looked up, listening and she gave him a smile. Placing a hand on Heyes’ arm she added, “And my disappointment at not seeing Joshua Smith there too.”

Kid’s head dropped once more.

“I didn’t have a lot of money,” Elizabeth continued. “I told the hotel clerk I might know the man in the register and came up here.”

“Just like that? He let you come up to a man’s room to spend the night? Wasn’t that a little scandalous?” Heyes asked.

“Well I might have said something like “Oh I see my husband’s here already” ,” she told him and Kid threw up again.

“You’re really not helping him,” Heyes told her. His eyes wandered down her body, appreciating the glimpses of soft curves and smooth skin beneath the delicate fabric of the…Heyes picked up the shawl from the chair and quickly handed it to her. Elizabeth smiled, knowingly and wrapped it around her body.

“When I got up here, I found the door open,” Elizabeth told them and saw Heyes eyes go darker. “I know you always lock the door and so does Kid. I came in and found him lying on the bed, one foot on the floor, his shirt and Henley scattered about the room. His gun belt was by the window.” Heyes brow furrowed and Kid looked up from the basin.

“I don’t…do that,” he said. “I don’t…leave it… on the floor,” he said, meaning his gun.

“I know,” Heyes stated.

“I thought Kid was drunk but…”

“But what?” Heyes asked.

“I saw his saddle bags had been turned out. He was out cold and he didn’t smell of alcohol.”

Kid looked up again, beginning to feel a little better. He listened intently.

“So I pulled off his boots and put him to bed. Then I tidied up.”

“And got into bed with him?” Heyes asked, wide eyed.

“Well I told you. I didn’t have much money and believe me, the state he was in; I knew I’d be safe.”

“Thanks a lot,” Kid muttered. “Even if I was, well I’m not exactly likely to pounce on you.” Heyes and Elizabeth exchanged a smile. “You’d of, been safe with me,” Kid assured her and Heyes placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“We know Kid,” he said, kindly.

“I could take that two ways,” Elizabeth told him petulantly.

“Don’t confuse him,” Heyes suggested, as he bent down next to his friend.

Kid’s face was pale and he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

“Sorry,” the blond man apologised.

“What for?” Heyes asked.

“This.” Kid didn’t meet his friend’s eyes.

Heyes took the basin from him and placed it back on the wash stand. Kid sat back in the chair as Elizabeth placed a hand on his forehead.

“You’re clammy,” she stated.

“Great,” was Kid’s reply.

“What do you remember?” Heyes asked him. Elizabeth stepped back and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I had a meal in the dining room downstairs,” Kid began, clearly struggling to remember. Flashes of images came back to him. “I think I went…I think I went to the saloon, played poker.” He looked up at Heyes and shook his head. “I don’t know Heyes. I just don’t know.”

Kid looked confused and lost. He closed his eyes.

Hannibal Heyes rubbed a hand over two day’s stubble on his chin.

“I’m going to get the doctor to take a look at you,” he stated and Kid opened his eyes. “Don’t even think about arguing with me Kid.” The blond man nodded slowly. Heyes looked at Elizabeth Darkly.

“You might want to get decent,” he suggested and she smiled.

“Oh, I’m never decent,” she told him.

Heyes rolled his eyes and looked with concern at his partner.

“Go on. Go and fetch the doctor. I’ll look after him,” Elizabeth said, as she got to her feet and he gave her a grateful look, as he left.

***

By the time Heyes returned, a maid had been sent to remove the basin and its offending contents and replace it with a clean one. Elizabeth had dressed in a figure hugging dark blue dress and Kid had managed to focus on a few more objects in the room, although he was still slumped in the chair, Heyes entered the room with a slim, dark-haired young man in his early thirties.

The man introduced himself as Dr. Ian Bilson. The name brought Kid’s head up fast, his eyes opening wide. He met Heyes eyes, as his friend stood behind the doctor. Elizabeth did not miss the look that passed between them and remembered the name from before.

Dr. Bilson shook Elizabeth’s hand, when she offered it to him.

“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Jones. I’m sorry to hear your husband is unwell.” Kid groaned, as his eyes fixed on Heyes, who gave him an apologetic smile.

The doctor looked at Kid.

“Now exactly what’s the trouble Mr. Jones?” he asked, although Heyes had already explained how they thought he had been drugged. The slim man examined Kid who cooperated as best he could. When he had completed his examination, he stood back and addressed them all.

“You could be right about drugs, Mr. Smith. From the look in your eyes and your reactions, Mr Jones I’d definitely say there is something in your system. The question is what? It’s so difficult to tell what you may have been given. A sedative, definitely. Maybe an hallucinogen? I’ll admit I don’t know. I think bed rest is the best thing I can suggest. You just have to give your body a chance to remove whatever it is from your system.”

“Oh I think it’s removing it,” Kid told him.

“I asked a few questions in the saloon,” Heyes told them. “Seems there was a medicine man in town yesterday.”

“Ah, yes. Colby’s Cure-alls. All coloured water, snake venom and nonsense, if you ask me,” the doctor said derisively.

“Apparently he had a pretty girl assisting him?” Heyes said, as his eyes fell on his partner, looking for a reaction. Kid knew what his friend was hinting at and at that point, he could not deny it. He had no idea what had happened the previous night.

“Ah yes, Esmeralda,” Dr. Bilson stated. “Quite a voluptuous young lady,” the doctor said, as he remembered the raven haired beauty in the low cut dress.

“Seems she took a shine to Thaddeus here,” Heyes informed them. Kid closed his eyes. The room fell silent.

“What?” Elizabeth snapped and they all looked at her. “Thaddeus? Did you encourage this young woman?” she asked, slipping into the role of Mrs. Jones, jealous wife.

“I don’t…” Kid began, a little flustered. He looked to Heyes for help. Heyes took a moment to enjoy his partner’s bewilderment before he intervened.

“Oh I’m sure Thaddeus was the perfect gentleman and would not dream of encouraging the young lady.”

Dr. Bilson stood up. It was clearly time for him to leave. Mr. and Mrs. Jones had things to discuss.

“I think I’d better be on my way,” he said placing a hand on Kid’s shoulder. “Rest Mr. Jones. As much as you can. And drink plenty of water too, that should help flush it out.” Heyes paid him and then Dr. Bilson was gone. After a few moments, Kid looked at his partner.

“Bilson?” he stated.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Heyes what happened to me last night?”

“The bartender said Esmeralda was all over you in the saloon, although the desk clerk said you came up here on your own. Apparently, this is not that sort of hotel. You were unsteady on your feet though.”

“Heyes I…I mean I know you think I… but I wouldn’t…not…” Kid stammered.

“Yeah, I know.” The dark-haired man decided to put Kid out of his misery. “I think she slipped something in your drink and they waited for you when you came back here. Or waited for you to pass out.” Heyes had a sudden thought. “Do you have any money?”

“In my saddle bags,” Kid stated.

“There was no money there when I put everything back,” Elizabeth informed them.

“I’m sorry I got suckered,” Kid said as his eyes grew heavier.

“Well at least you’re alive and not in a ditch somewhere…or in jail. If they’d known who you were it could have been worse.” Heyes stood beside his friend. “C’mon, you heard the Doc, you need bed rest.”

He helped Kid to his feet and back to bed. Kid managed to remove his jeans this time and as Heyes pulled the covers over him, he was already dropping off to sleep. Whatever he had been given, it was going to take some time to wear off.

“Thank you,” Heyes said to Elizabeth, as he turned to face her. “For looking after him.”

“It’s becoming a habit,” she said with a smile. “I could do with breakfast.” She suggested.

Heyes gave Kid a glance.

“He’ll be sleeping for a while yet and we could always lock him in,” Elizabeth remarked.

“Let me shave first, clean up a little and I’ll join you alright?” Heyes said.

“Okay.” She opened the door and then turned back. “Oh you’ll have to get another room,” she told him and smiled at Heyes’ questioning look.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I can’t have you sharing a room with me and my husband,” she stated and closed the door behind her. Heyes stared at the closed door. He had not thought of that. He looked at his sleeping partner. Why did they always end up in some kind of trouble when they split up? Unable to answer his own question he picked up his saddle bags and searched through them for his shaving kit.

***

“Kid?”

Two sleepy eyes opened at Heyes’ call. Kid saw his partner’s freshly shaved face smiling down at him.

“I’m going down to get some breakfast. I’m going to lock the door behind me is that okay?”

Kid waved a hand at him ,grunted something that sounded like, “S’fine,” and went back to sleep.

***

Hannibal Heyes found Elizabeth Darkly in the hotel dining room. She was seated at a table in the far corner and had saved him a seat with its back to the wall so that he could keep an eye on the room. As the handsome, freshly washed, scrubbed and shaved dark-haired man walked towards her now she took a moment to admire him. She noted his slim body, confident walk, not to be confused with a swagger, his warm, dark eyes and, as he reached her, there was a flash of dimples, as he smiled. Elizabeth wasn’t the only woman in the room to cast an appreciative glance over the handsome Hannibal Heyes.

“May I join you Mrs. Jones?” Heyes asked, politely and Elizabeth smiled, indicating the seat beside her.

“We’re going to have to do something about that,” she said as he sat down. “I think Mrs. Jones has been so scandalised by her husband’s behaviour last night that she’s going to divorce him.”

Heyes smiled, only slightly disapproving, and imagined Kid’s reaction to that.

“Of course that will leave me free to marry you,” she said and Heyes looked at her. “I’d definitely prefer to be Mrs. Smith,” she cooed, as she reached for his hand. Heyes quickly pulled away and found himself searching the faces of the other customers in case anyone had noticed.

Elizabeth laughed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“You’re my partner’s wife!” he hissed and she laughed even louder, enjoying his sudden embarrassment.

“Oh Hannibal, you are too sweet to be true sometimes,” she smiled.

“Have you ordered?” Heyes asked, trying to change the subject.

“I think I just did,” she said and again he received a wicked smile, as she placed a hand on his knee under the table.

“Elizabeth!” he snapped and smacked her hand away. Elizabeth Darkly sat back and laughed. The waiter approached and as Heyes and Elizabeth ordered food, Heyes edged his chair further away from Elizabeth.

“I’ll behave I promise,” she told him.

“Now why don’t I believe that?” Heyes said. “So what brings you to Grey Rock?” he asked.

“I’m just passing through on my way to Miller’s Lake,” she told him. “I have a ticket for the next stage there.”

“And what’s at Miller’s Lake?” he asked casually, but she did not answer him. Heyes looked up and immediately saw the sadness in her eyes. “Elizabeth?” he asked, gently.

“Nathaniel. Or rather Nathaniel’s grave is at Miller’s Lake.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he told her.

“No need to be. You didn’t know. Tuesday would have been our anniversary. There are things I need to do,” she said cryptically, her eyes on her coffee.

“What is it?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” She looked up at him, putting on a false smile. “So what have you been up to that brought you into town all dusty and dirty?”

“I was helping to deliver some cattle. Kid and I took different jobs. We don’t like splitting up but we needed the money.”

“So what was Kid doing?”

“You mean apart from getting himself into trouble again?” Heyes asked and she returned his smile. “He was riding as escort to a man who was delivering some legal documents. He’d never been out west before. Lom recommended us to him.”

“And how is the handsome sheriff? I hope he hasn’t shaved off that moustache?”

Heyes smiled. She was incorrigible.

“Lom is fine and no, he hasn’t,” Heyes told her. Their meal arrived and they made polite conversation as they ate. Afterwards, as they made their way from the dining room, Elizabeth put her hand on Heyes’ arm.

“Don’t forget to get yourself a room,” she said.

“Elizabeth I’m not gonna leave you alone with Kid,” he stated.

“Why are you afraid of what we might get up to?” she asked, coyly.

“No, I’m afraid of what you might do to him.”

“Well I can’t get a room. How would that look? I’m Mrs. Jones as far as everyone here is concerned and I should be sharing a room with my husband.”

“All right. I’ll get a room, in my name, but you’re sleeping in it!” he told her firmly.

“You are so sweet when you’re angry,” she stated, placing a hand on his arm.

Heyes spoke to the desk clerk and was given the key to a room a short distance along the corridor from Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Then Heyes and Elizabeth went upstairs to see how Kid was.

Kid Curry was still asleep when Heyes let himself into the room. Kid looked up startled awake but he did not reach for his gun, a fact which told Heyes just how unwell his partner was. Kid’s brows furrowed when Elizabeth Darkly appeared behind his partner.

“You okay?” Heyes asked his friend. Kid nodded. Heyes picked up Elizabeth’s bag and gave Kid a smile. “I’ve got a room for Elizabeth. I won’t be long.”

He escorted Elizabeth along the corridor and into the single room.

“Well here we are,” Heyes said as they entered the room. It was clean and airy. As well as the single bed, there was an armchair and a dresser with a mirror. A painting of a cattle drive hung above the bed. Heyes put her bag on the bed and the key on the table beside it.

“Yes, here we are,” Elizabeth replied, as she looked around the room. At the sight of the single bed her heart sank. She turned quickly away, walking to the dresser.

“What is it?” Heyes asked.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said, her back to him.

“Elizabeth, what’s wrong?” he asked, insistently. Heyes moved to stand behind her, placing a hand on her arm, she turned around. There were tears in her eyes and Elizabeth looked quickly at the floor, embarrassed that he should see her like this. He had never seen this vulnerability in her before.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked, with genuine concern.

“Will you hold me, please?” she asked and her moist eyes pleaded with him to do so. Heyes pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her. She rested her head on his shoulder.

“Stay with me tonight,” she said.

Heyes had to admit as he stood with this beautiful woman in his arms, it was a very tempting offer. He sighed and she pulled away from him, taking his hands in hers.

“Please,” she said.

“Elizabeth, I can’t. And besides, it’s only morning. By tonight you’ll have changed you mind,” he told her amiably.

“No I won’t,” she sounded definite.

“And there’s Kid…”

“Oh, he can take care of himself!” she snapped.

“Considering his present condition, I’d argue that with you,” Heyes told her. Two glistening brown eyes looked up at him and he felt a sudden desire to kiss her and pull her close once more. He placed a hand on her face and stroked her cheek with his thumb, brushing away a tear. She smiled.

“Elizabeth I…” and then she lunged at him, covering his mouth with hers. Startled, Heyes took a step backwards to steady himself, but she held him, pulling Heyes towards her in a crushing embrace. Elizabeth felt Heyes gasp for breath but she did not let go. And then his hands moved behind her, holding her, as his mouth and then his body began to respond.

***

It was still daylight when Kid woke up. He felt better, only a slight trace of a headache remained. He had no idea what the time was, but from the shadows in the room, he could tell the sun was low in the sky. Late afternoon maybe? Sitting up he looked at the space in the bed beside him. Elizabeth Darkly had been here. She’d been in his bed. Heyes was here too. He remembered that. But he could not remember what had happened the previous evening. He hoped his partner had figured it all out. He just hoped he hadn’t slept with Elizabeth. Not that she wasn’t a beautiful woman; it was just that they didn’t see eye to eye on most things, particularly on her relationship with his partner.

Thinking of Heyes, Kid wondered where he was. He remembered him finding him in bed with Elizabeth, remembered a doctor. He remembered seeing Heyes shaving. At least he assumed it had all happened and was not part of some horrible dream.

He spotted Heyes’ saddlebags next to his own. No, Heyes was here, but not here. And then he remembered something else. Was Elizabeth pretending to be his wife? Was he now her husband? Kid groaned and leaned back against the bedpost.

Heyes was not here. Elizabeth was not here. He had a sinking feeling that wherever they were, they were together. Kid groaned again. It was too much for his head to take in. Then he heard a key turning in the lock and the door handle turned slowly.

As Hannibal Heyes crept quietly into the room, he heard the click of a hammer being pulled back on a Colt .45.

“Kid, it’s me,” Heyes said.

“I know,” his partner replied, as his friend put his head around the door.

“So lower your gun,” Heyes told him, indignantly.

“No Heyes. If you’ve been where I think you’ve been, I may just have to shoot some sense into you.”

Heyes shut the door hard.

“Will you put that thing down!” Heyes snapped and Kid smiled as he released the hammer and dropped his gun back in its holster, which now hung on the bedpost beside his head. Some things in his world were returning to normal. “You feeling better?” Heyes asked.

“Yeah.”

“Heyes, did I sleep with her?” Kid asked, getting straight to the point.

“Yes Kid.”

“Oh no!” his partner groaned and put his hand in his hands.

“You slept and she slept. You just didn’t sleep together, if you see what I mean?” Heyes said, finding himself unusually coy.

“You’re sure we didn’t…?”

“Well, of course, I can’t say for certain but Elizabeth said..no. You’re reputation is safe Kid. She didn’t take advantage of you.”

Clearly relieved, Kid nodded and then asked, “So where have you been?”

“As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying to find out what happened to you last night,” Heyes informed Kid, as he steered the conversation away from Elizabeth Darkly.

“You figured it out yet?” Kid asked, hopefully.

“Seems Colby and his assistant ran quite a few scams while they were here. The sheriff’s sent a telegram ahead to the neighbouring towns warning them to be on the lookout.”

“Comforting to know I wasn’t the only one that got suckered,” Kid stated. “Any ideas what they gave me?”

“No,” his friend told him.

“What about Elizabeth. Why’s she here?”

Heyes looked away.

“Heyes?”

“She’s heading for Miller’s Lake. Apparently Nathaniel Darkly is buried there.”

Kid studied his friend’s face and sighed.

“Why do I get the feeling we’re going with her?” he asked pointedly and Heyes looked up at him. For once, he didn’t know what to say, but Kid saw the answer in his eyes. “Oh, Heyes. You know she’s trouble and that’s one thing we’re supposed to stay out of.”

“Says the man who got himself drugged last night!” the dark-haired man said, sitting down on the armchair.

Kid didn’t have an answer for that.

“Well?” Kid prompted.

“Although she did not ask for our help,” Heyes stated. “I think she needs it.”

“What did she tell you?”

“Just that he’s buried there. Kid, she had tears in her eyes.”

“The woman cries?” Kid asked with mock surprise. “Maybe she is human after all.”

Heyes smiled.

“Oh she is,” he said quietly, a smile forming on his face. Kid did not reply and when Heyes looked up, he found his partner studying him.

“What?” Heyes asked.

“Have you been with my wife?” Kid asked and it was one of the few times he had seen his partner speechless.

***

That evening Heyes met Elizabeth in the dining room for dinner. Kid was still in bed, still a little dizzy and uncharacteristically, not hungry. In fact, Kid had screwed up his face and turned a little green at the suggestion that he might want to eat something to help settle his stomach.

So once more, Heyes found himself sitting across the table from the beautiful dark-haired woman.

“People will begin to talk if we keep eating together without my husband,” Elizabeth told him mischievously, as she sipped on her coffee, at the end of the meal. Her eyes met his over the rim of the cup.

“Oh, and what do you think they will be saying?” Heyes asked.

“Well they will probably be thinking how good we look together and wondering what I ever saw in a man who disgraces himself with other women,” Elizabeth told him decisively. Heyes stifled a smile, feeling that he should be defending his partner but, as he wasn’t actually Elizabeth’s husband, he wasn’t sure why.

“I think your husband might have something to say about that,” Heyes told her and she smiled. “Elizabeth something tells me you need our help,” Heyes told her and Elizabeth put down her cup.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“It’s just a feeling I have,” he told her honestly.

“And how do you propose to help me? I’m leaving on the stage in the morning.”

“I know and I bought two tickets for it, this afternoon.”

“You did?” she was genuinely surprised. “Does Kid know?”

And the expression on his face gave Elizabeth her answer.

“Well, I haven’t exactly discussed it with him,” Heyes admitted.

“Do you think he’ll be well enough to travel?

”Well if he’s not you can’t go,” Heyes reminded her. “He’s your husband after all.” Heyes gave Elizabeth a smile as she realised the truth of his words.

“I’ll go if he’s well or not,” she stated. “I need to be there. Your infamous sharp mind will think of an excuse,” she told him confidently.

“Maybe,” he said.

“Well if I stay I’ll have to keep sharing a room with Kid. Would you really want that? Who knows what might happen when a man and a woman are thrown together.” She had a sudden thought. “Maybe I should try to extend my research?”

“About that research,” Heyes said.

“I don’t think this is the time, do you?” she replied, coyly.

“Exactly what are you researching?” Heyes asked her.

“Kid hasn’t told you?”

“No,” he stated and Elizabeth smiled, her best, reeling him into her web smile.

“Well?” Heyes prompted.

“Maybe Kid should tell you.”

“Why don’t you. It would save time,” Heyes suggested and Elizabeth smiled knowingly, having no intention of telling him…yet.

“Who’s Bilson?” Elizabeth asked suddenly. Heyes’ head shot up and he didn’t speak for a moment.

“The Doctor here in Grey Rock?” he asked innocently.

“No. The one that makes Kid Curry call out in the night.”

Heyes froze.

“When he was shot and at Devil’s Hole, Kid was calling for you,” she explained, watching for any reaction. Heyes put on his best poker face. “He was mumbling something about Bilson too. So who is he?”

“Leave it Elizabeth,” Heyes told her.

“You know I won’t do that,” she stated. “Someone scares Kid Curry, enough to have him calling out in the night. Must be dangerous?” She was fishing he knew it. “So who is he?”

Heyes didn’t speak.

“You tell me about Bilson and I’ll tell you about my research. How’s that for a deal?” she offered. “Or maybe I should just ask Kid straight out?”

The look in Heyes eyes told her he did not want her doing that.

“So who is he?” she asked again.

“Was.” Heyes corrected. “The man is dead. That’s it. Don’t ask again. Don’t ask Kid.” She knew he was serious. Knew he meant it. Especially the bit about not mentioning it to his partner.

“May I ask why?” she asked.

“You can ask, just don’t expect me to tell you,” he told her and then he stood up. This conversation was over. “And if you ever mention it to Kid…”

“What?” she asked.

Heyes didn’t say anything. What would he do to protect his partner?

“We’d better go,” he said.

“Don’t you want to know about the research?” she asked.

“Not now,” he told her and the conversation really was at an end.

***

It required some quick manoeuvring the next morning to get Kid and Elizabeth together so that they could descend the stairs as Mr. and Mrs. Jones on their way to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Kid was almost fully recovered. At least he had been until Heyes told him they were leaving on the stage that day, accompanying Elizabeth to Miller’s Lake and he would have to pose as her husband.

“WHAT?” Kid asked, incredulously.

“Now Kid, don’t get yourself worked up,” Heyes cautioned.

“WORKED UP?” Kid said as, he got worked up. “Why would I do that Heyes? Just because my partner wants me to go off with the woman that shot him and gets us into trouble every time she shows up. Now why would that get me worked up?” He glared at his partner.

“She needs our help,” Heyes stated.

“She didn’t tell you that did she?”

“Well no but…”

“But nothing. Heyes let her go. Without us. If she wanted us, she would have asked. You’re always telling me I shouldn’t rush to the aid of every woman that needs our help. Well now you need to take your own advice.” Kid sat back; satisfied that he had made his point.

“She won’t ask us this time, Kid,” Heyes stated, aware that his partner had made some very valid points.

“With what? You don’t know there is a problem.”

“But I have a feeling there is.”

“Sheesh Heyes!” Kid moaned but eventually, after they had argued some more, he agreed to help…..with whatever it turned out to be.

***

After breakfast, they checked out of the hotel and made their way across the street to the stagecoach depot. They found a place on a hard wooden bench and sat down to wait for the arrival of the ten o’clock stage, which was currently due in around noon.

Kid tilted his hat over his face and closed his eyes, hoping to get a little more rest before the stage arrived. Although he was feeling better, he was still a little weak. Whatever he had been given had taken more out of him than he cared to admit. His breathing began to slow as he began to drift…

Kid’s eyes shot open when he felt Elizabeth’s hand on his leg, sliding down to his knee. Kid sat up, pushing his hat back as he did so. He looked down at her hand, then up at her face. Elizabeth met his eyes, giving him a sweet smile.

“What are you doin’?” he asked through clenched teeth.

“Smile Thaddeus, Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins from the hotel are heading this way, and they think you are my husband,” she informed him. He followed her gaze and Heyes, Elizabeth and Kid smiled politely as a grey haired couple in their late fifties entered the stage depot. Ethan Jenkins was a small, thin man with round glasses. His wife, Gertrude, was the same height and of similar build to her husband. They had met Heyes and Elizabeth at dinner the previous evening.

“Oh, Mrs. Jones are you travelling on the stage too?” Gertrude Jenkins asked hopefully. Her eyes fell on the blond man beside Elizabeth. Elizabeth had a hand on his knee. “And is this Mr. Jones?” she asked pointedly. “I do hope you are feeling better.”

Kid looked up, tipping his hat to the elderly lady, as he rose to his feet.

“Yes, thank you ma’am,” he said politely. “Pleased to meet you.”

Heyes stood too.

“Gertrude, may I introduce my husband Thaddeus,” Elizabeth said. “And you’ve met his partner, Joshua Smith.” Heyes detected a slight hint of disapproval in the look Gertrude gave him. As if she had not been pleased with the attention this dark-haired man had been showing the married woman.

“Mrs. Jenkins,” Heyes said and he turned to her husband. “Mr. Jenkins.”

“Oh, it’s Ethan, please call me Ethan,” the small man said to the two young cowboys.

“Are you travelling to Miller’s Lake?” Kid asked, conversationally.

“No, we’re going on to Jackson Gap,” Gertrude said. “Our daughter has just had a baby boy.”

“It’ll be the first time we’ve seen her in four years,” Ethan said, the regret he felt, clear in his voice. His wife put an understanding hand on his arm.

When the stage finally arrived, they watched as their bags were loaded onto the roof and then the passengers waited to be called on board. It was only the five of them travelling today.

They boarded the stage. Heyes and Kid sat opposite each other at a window. Elizabeth sat beside Kid and Mr and Mrs Jenkins sat opposite them, with Gertrude Jenkins in the middle, next to Heyes. Elizabeth snuggled close to Kid, wrapping her hands around his arm, and resting her head affectionately on his shoulder. Heyes smiled at his partner’s obvious discomfort.

“Have you two been married long?” Mrs. Jenkins asked Elizabeth as, with a jolt, the stage set off causing Elizabeth to grab hold of her husband’s arm even tighter.

“Oh no, we’re still newly weds,” Elizabeth said, as she took Kid’s hand in hers and squeezed it tight. Kid gave an embarrassed smile and shot a glare at his partner. He squeezed Elizabeth’s hand a little harder than necessary and she gave a little gasp of pain. Heyes stifled a laugh, his lips were pressed together and he looked out of the window pretending to find the scenery very interesting.

“We were married just two months ago,” Elizabeth told her new found friend. “It was a lovely wedding; Joshua was the best man there.” She met Heyes eyes and he glared at her, sending her a message to CUT IT OUT!

Gertrude obviously missed the inference. “I mean he was best man to Thaddeus.” She patted Kid’s arm and he gave a slight smile.

“It was a wonderful day, one I’ll never forget,” Elizabeth continued and Kid prayed silently that she would not embarrass him further. Somehow, he expected to be disappointed. “And we spent our honeymoon in a large house by a lake. It was so romantic. There were candles everywhere. I mean they say it’s supposed to be the best day of a woman’s life and believe me it was.”

Elizabeth leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially to Gertrude.

“Thaddeus is such a passionate man,” Elizabeth she said and Heyes suddenly had a coughing fit.

“Oh my Mr. Smith are you alright?” Mrs. Jenkins asked, with concern. Icy blue eyes fixed on the dark-haired man. Kid’s message was clear. If you think this is funny, Heyes, wait until we get off this stage.

“Dust!” Heyes rasped, pointing to the window. “In my throat.”

Kid just continued to glare at his partner. Heyes just knew Kid was going to be having words with him later.

“What takes you to Miller’s Lake?” Ethan Jenkins asked, as Heyes got his breathing under control.

“Business,” Heyes said quickly, before Elizabeth could tell them her first husband had been shot in the back and give Mrs. Jenkins apoplexy.

“Oh and what business are you in?” Mr. Jenkins asked.

Heyes could see his partner’s eyes on him, equally interested to hear what the dark-haired man had to say.

“Ranching,” Heyes stated. “We’re looking to buy some land around Miller’s Lake and start a ranch there.”

“Oh and do you already own a ranch?” the elderly man asked.

“We had a spread up around Porterville,” Heyes stated confidently. “Mr. Jones and I are partners.”

“Mr. Smith handles the business side of things and my husband is more…hands on…” she let her eyes linger on Heyes, as her innuendo hit home. He smiled at her, as Elizabeth patted Kid on the arm.

As the conversation turned to more mundane things, Kid tilted his hat over his face and closed his eyes. He was feeling light-headed and a little nauseous as the stage bumped along. Whatever he had been given was still working its way out of his system and he was annoyed to feel so weak. He was soon asleep. Despite his amusement, as Elizabeth embarrassed Kid, Heyes watched his partner with concern.

***

The stage stopped to change horses at Deke Chipwood’s small homestead. He ran the stage station with his wife Victoria. The passengers waited outside in the sunshine, as Deke and the stage driver worked with the horses.

“Your husband is such a handsome young man. You are a very lucky woman,” Gertrude said, as she sat with Elizabeth on a wooden bench in front of the Chipwood’s cabin. The women cast their eyes towards the corral, where the partners were standing.

“Newly weds?” Kid hissed, as Heyes handed him a cup of coffee. Each man ran a professional eye over the horses in the corral. Kid looked back at Elizabeth as she chatted to Gertrude Jenkins. Elizabeth waved to her husband and his partner, giving them a sweet smile.

“I’m sorry, Kid. I didn’t know she was going to enjoy herself so much,” Heyes sympathised.

“We want children of course,” Elizabeth went on, her voice carrying across to them as she slipped easily into the role of indiscreet newly wed wife, innocently embarrassing her husband. “I thought four, but Thaddeus being such a passionate man has suggested we just keep trying and see how many the good Lord blesses us with.”

Kid visibly blushed and shot a look at Heyes, as if this was all his partner’s fault.

“Heyes you gotta do something,” Kid pleaded. “I’m dying of embarrassment here.”

“Of course he comes from good fertile stock,” Elizabeth continued. “My mother told me there were no worries about the Jones men and a woman has to consider that, if she wants children.” She smiled at Mrs. Jenkins who was more than a little taken aback by the conversation.

“Oh can you imagine it?” Elizabeth asked, as she looked across at Heyes, her eyes sparkling wickedly. “Lots of little dark-haired children running around us, looking so much like their father.”

Now it was Heyes’ turn to blush.

“Oh, I mean their mother,” Elizabeth corrected herself, as she smiled at the dark-haired man but Gertrude saw where her glance had fallen. Surely, I’m mistaken, Gertrude thought.

The partner’s exchanged a look. This really had to stop.

“And hopefully there will be a few little blond cherubs too,” Elizabeth added, with a smile towards Kid.

“Of course I don’t want them inheriting any of their father’s bad habits,” Elizabeth stated, definitely.

“Bad habits?” Mrs. Jenkins asked before she could stop herself.

“Oh don’t be fooled, he has some. He sings in his sleep,” Elizabeth told her newfound confidant. Kid’s mouth dropped open, as Heyes stifled a snort. “And there will be no cussing or spitting in my house!” Elizabeth told her.

“Heyes so help me I’m gonna shoot that woman!” Kid whispered to his partner and set off towards Elizabeth.

“And I do so hope the children don’t snore,” Elizabeth continued. “Why Thaddeus sounds like a…”

“Elizabeth!” Kid said firmly, as he and Heyes approached the table. “I really don’t think Mrs. Jenkins is interested in my bad habits or all our plans. You really should rest dear.” He shot his partner a look that said help me out here.

Heyes took pity on his friend.

“Mrs. Jenkins I saw some very pretty flowers growing in Mrs. Chipwood’s garden. I wonder if you could identify them for me?”

The older woman smiled at the handsome young man, glad to help. Kid sat down next to Elizabeth as they watched Heyes and Gertrude walk out of earshot.

“Will you cut it out!” Kid snapped at Elizabeth

“Oh relax, Kid. I’m just having a little fun,” she told him.

“Yeah and at my expense,” he reminded her.

***

It was almost dusk when they arrived in Miller’s Lake. Heyes climbed out of the stage first, followed by Kid who turned to help his wife step down. Fortunately, the Jenkins’ were travelling on to Jackson Gap and the stage should reach it just after nightfall. The road to Jackson Gap was a safe one, so the stage driver had no worries about travelling at night. Keen to get going there was time for only brief goodbyes, before the driver cracked the whip and the stage was on its way once more.

To his relief, it now meant Kid no longer had to pretend to be Elizabeth’s husband. The three companions picked up their bags and headed for the hotel.

When they entered the reception area, they found the desk unmanned.

“Who wants to be my husband this time?” Elizabeth asked, jokingly.

Kid stared at her and hit the bell on the desk, VERY HARD. As a resonating DING! rang out, they heard someone scuttling about in a side room and then a small, weasel-like man appeared from behind a dividing curtain.

Heyes took charge of checking them in, as Kid and Elizabeth stood by the stairs. When the desk clerk peered at Elizabeth and asked who the lady was, Heyes found himself telling the man she was his sister. He had no idea why he said that, but it seemed sufficient for the thin little man.

When they reached their hotel room, Kid collapsed on the bed.

“Oh thank God that’s over,” he said. “I didn’t think she’d ever stop talking or embarrassing me. That had to be the longest stagecoach trip of my life.”

Heyes smiled.

“And did you see the look of sympathy I got from Jenkins?” Kid asked his partner. “It was as if he knew a hen-pecked husband when he saw one.”

Heyes patted Kid on the shoulder.

“It’s okay Kid, you don’t have to be her husband anymore.”

“I was that close to shooting her just to shut her up,” Kid announced.

“Well I told the clerk she was my sister,” Heyes told his friend.

Kid smiled.

“You did what?”

“I told the desk clerk Elizabeth was my sister.”

Kid’s smile grew wider.

“Well you can’t go sneaking to her room now Heyes, that’s for sure.”

The look on his partner’s face told Kid Curry that Heyes had not thought of that. Kid’s smile grew wider still.

***

After breakfast the next morning, Heyes took Elizabeth shopping, more to get her away from Kid than his need to accompany her as she purchased essential woman’s things. Elizabeth enjoyed having him escort her along the boardwalk and she wrapped her hand around his arm.

“Maybe we should pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Smith in this town,” she suggested.

“I thought it was always Darkly?” Heyes reminded her.

“Oh, we can discuss that.”

Heyes was carrying two parcels she had purchased in a dress shop, he had refused to enter with her. He had waited patiently outside while she shopped and the door opened just as a wagon rolled by. It was carrying the passengers from the stage they had been on. Turning his back to the street, Heyes failed to see Gertrude and Ethan Jenkins ride into town.

After another half an hour of shopping, Heyes and Elizabeth made their way back to the hotel.

“Quick!” Elizabeth said, suddenly and pulled Heyes into an alley.

“What is it?” Heyes asked, his eyes scanning the street for signs of a posse, or any form of danger.

“This,” Elizabeth said and she planted a kiss on his lips, pushing him back against the wall. Heyes was unable to defend himself, as he carried a parcel in each hand. Short of dropping them, there was little he could do. Heyes dropped the parcels.

“Elizabeth!” he snapped as he pushed her away. “What are you doing?”

“Kissing you,” she stated and moved forward again. “I just had the urge to.”

“Will you stop it!” he said, gasping for breath.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never done something just because you had the urge to?” she asked.

“Not, this,” he stated.

“So enjoy the new experience,” Elizabeth Darkly suggested, as she moved closer once more.

“Elizabeth, we’re in a public street!”

“No one is watching us. No one cares. Live dangerously.”

“I robbed trains and banks,” he reminded her. “I’ve lived dangerously!”

“Well I think you’re getting a little stuffy since you went straight.”

“I have not,” he protested.

“So kiss me, Hannibal Heyes.”

“You are shameless,” he told her.

“Sometimes,” she replied, but she noted that he didn’t pull away when she kissed him again.

***

Ethan Jenkins could not believe what he was seeing. When a wheel broke on the stage he had been forced to return to Miller’s Lake, with his wife. They had travelled, uncomfortably, in the back of a wagon. Gertrude had retired to their newly acquired room at the hotel, proclaiming that she needed to rest her shaken bones. Ethan had decided to get some fresh air. He was on his way back, when he saw a familiar figure slip into the alley beside the hotel. Surely that was Mrs. Jones. His mouth dropped open when he saw her locked in a romantic embrace with a man. His wife had told him the woman was innocently brazen. Ethan thought she was just outright shameless and Thaddeus should take her in hand and give her a good talking to. This was no way for a respectable woman to behave.

Ethan Jenkins took a step closer and froze, when the couple broke apart. Instead of the often embarrassed, and to his mind, somewhat simple, Thaddeus Jones, Elizabeth had been kissing his partner, Joshua Smith. He put this shocking fact together with something his wife told him about a look Elizabeth had given the dark-haired man at the Chipwoods.

“Oh poor Thaddeus,” Ethan said aloud. This was scandalous! He would have to tell his wife.

***

Having purchased more bullets, which he jokingly told Heyes he might need with Elizabeth around, Kid exited the General Store and came face to face with Ethan Jenkins.

“Ah!” said the grey-haired man. “Mr. Jones!”

“Mr. Jenkins!” Kid said, surprised to see the man and then horrified at the thought of having to pretend to be Elizabeth’s husband again. “What are you doing in town?”

“The stage broke down,” Ethan explained, and then he placed a sympathetic hand on Kid’s arm. “I’m so pleased I ran into you. Could I have a word with you son? In private? Man to man?” he could see Kid was confused. “I think there’s something you should know.”

***

The door burst open and Kid Curry stormed into the hotel room. He shot an accusing glare at Heyes and Elizabeth.

“Just what have you two been up to?” he demanded to know

“Something wrong Kid?” Heyes asked, innocently, although clearly something was.

“You bet something’s wrong. Jenkin’s just came up to me, as I was coming out of the General Store. Seems he saw Mr. Smith kissing my wife! Then he says, if I decide to call Mr. Smith out, will I be sure to give him a call first ‘cos he’s never seen a genuine gun fight before!”

“Oh,” Heyes said.

“Yeah, “Oh”.”

“What’s he doing here?” Heyes asked.

“Huh?”

“Jenkins. Why’s he in town?”

“Oh, the wheel broke on the stage. They had to come back, but they should be leaving tomorrow,” Kid explained.

“Oh good,” his partner said.

“Look, that’s not the point,” Kid reminded him, irritated. “Outside Heyes, now!”

“What?” Heyes asked, incredulously.

“You and me, outside now!” Kid snapped, pointing a thumb towards the door.

“You’re kiddin’ right?” Heyes asked, but Kid did not look as if he was joking. “Kid?”

“Am I?” the blond man asked, with a murderous glare in his blue eyes. “I’ve got a reputation to uphold. You two were seen together, so if you want me to keep up the Mr. and Mrs Jones act don’t start complaining if I start acting like a husband!”

“Kid you can’t…” Elizabeth began.

“Oh can’t I?” They both looked at him. “Seems I’m expected to put a bullet in you Heyes, before the days out!”

“But you won’t,” Heyes stated, calmly.

“Right now? The way I’m feelin’? I wouldn’t bet on it!” Kid told him.

“Kid, look we were just…”

“Oh I know what you were ‘just’. Locked in each other’s arms, in an alley beside the hotel, according to Jenkins.”

Heyes had the sense to look a little embarrassed and then Kid took a swing at him. The punch caught Heyes square in the jaw sending him reeling backwards, into the chair and he landed on the floor. Elizabeth was quickly at his side. Kid stood over his partner, nursing the knuckles on his right hand.

Heyes felt his jaw, then his mouth. His lower lip was split and bleeding. He looked up at his friend, stunned.

“What d’you do that for?” he asked.

“Because I can’t shoot ya can I?” Kid told him. “At least now people will know you got my message!”

***

With the Jenkins’ in the hotel, Kid and Elizabeth were once again forced to pretend to be Mr. and Mrs. Thaddeus Jones.

The Jenkins’ smiled at the three companions, from their table, across the dining room. Ethan Jenkins noted, with disappointment, the bruise on the dark-haired man’s jaw and his split lip. It seemed there would be no gunfight after all.

Dinner was a somewhat strained affair. Heyes steered the conversation towards Nathaniel Darkly and the shooting.

“Nathaniel always had some scheme or other on the go,” Elizabeth explained to Heyes. “I think that’s one of the reasons I like you…you remind me of him in some ways. The last plan of his went wrong. A lot of people lost a lot of money.”

She looked down at her hands, remembering.

“He was shot in the back. They never found out who did it, but I’m sure it was someone he owed money to. That’s one reason I wanted to come back here, to try and find out who did it. I should have done it before. I loved Nathaniel. Like many people, I didn’t realise how much, until it was too late.”

Neither man spoke, allowing her time with her memories. Eventually, Heyes broke the silence.

“Tell me some more about what happened,” he said.

“Nathaniel was told that the railroad was coming through Miller’s Lake. He started to buy up land and properties. When he did not have the money himself, he persuaded others to do the same. Several people risked all they had to purchase land that was otherwise worthless. And then they heard that the railroad would not be coming to Miller’s Lake after all. And of course, a lot of people found themselves terribly in debt.”

“I don’t expect that made him very popular,” Heyes observed.

“It didn’t. He …” she paused, as Ethan and Gertrude Jenkins headed towards them. Not wanting to enter into a discussion about the day’s events, they enjoyed a few moments of polite conversation with the couple, then made their excuses and left.

***

When they reached their rooms, they were annoyed to find that the Jenkins’ had followed them up the stairs.

As Kid pretended to look for the key, Heyes gave his friends a smile, before heading off along the corridor to the room they had taken for Elizabeth. He smiled once more, and then disappeared inside. Ethan and Gertrude Jenkins waited outside their room, as Gertrude fumbled in her purse for the key. Ethan cast occasional glances at Kid and Elizabeth, pleased to see the young couple reunited. Thaddeus had clearly spoken to his friend following Jenkins’ own revelations that afternoon, but all seemed well with the young couple now.

Why don’t they go inside? Kid thought. He turned to face Elizabeth.

“Kiss me,” she said, as she pressed herself against him.

“Wha…?” he managed to say, before her mouth covered his.

“We’re being watched,” she told him, as she pulled slightly away, nodding along the corridor to where the Jenkins stood. “I think they expect this.”

“Oh,” he replied and put his arms around her, pulling her close. Elizabeth had to admit it was a pleasant feeling. Kid held her, as he planted a kiss on her lips, then another on her cheek.

“Maybe I should start my research again?” Elizabeth suggested and she kissed him back. “Or perhaps I should consider extending it.”

“What?” Then he saw the look in her eyes. “No!” he stated adamantly and they heard the Jenkins’ gasp. Kid kissed her quickly. “I share a lot of things with my partner, but a woman isn’t one of them,” he whispered in her ear.

“Why Thaddeus,” she cooed. “That suggests you’d actually want to.”

He pushed her away.

“They’re gone,” he told her. “You don’t have to pretend anymore.”

“I wasn’t,” she said and she leaned into him, kissing him once more. It was a long kiss and she soon felt him begin to respond. His arms enveloped her, as he pressed her back against the wall.

“No!” he said, suddenly and pushed away with determination. Elizabeth met his blue eyes and wondered which of them he was trying so hard to convince.

***

After waiting for a few moments, Heyes cracked open the door, checked the corridor was clear, and then slipped back to his room. He turned the handle gently, so as not to alert the Jenkins but for some reason he also felt the need to give a tiny cough…just in case…Just in case, what? Well he knew how persuasive Elizabeth could be, and Kid was only human, after all.

Hannibal Heyes put his head slowly round the door. Elizabeth was sitting patiently on the edge of the bed. His partner stood by the window, which was about as far away from her as he could get, without climbing out onto the roof. Kid glared at his partner, who gave him a sweet smile in return.

Elizabeth stood up and walked towards the dark-haired man. She gave Heyes a kiss on the cheek as she muttered, “Goodnight Hannibal.”

“It’s Heyes,” he told her. “And Goodnight Elizabeth.”

She smiled at him.

“Goodnight Kid,” she said.

“Hmph,” was Kid’s only reply, as he focussed his attention on the empty street below. Elizabeth slipped from the room and Heyes closed the door quietly behind her. He turned to face his friend.

“Don’t say a word,” Kid warned him and for once Hannibal Heyes decided that was probably the best thing to do.

***

The next morning, Elizabeth slipped along the corridor to wake the two men. She hoped they would beat the Jenkins’ down to breakfast and avoid any more awkward situations.

Hannibal Heyes opened the door. He was stripped to the waist, his face covered in flecks of soap as he had just finished shaving.

“Oh, you’ve started without me,” Elizabeth quipped, as she gave his torso an appreciative look.

Heyes glared at her, shot a quick look along the empty corridor to check no one had seen her, grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her into the room.

“Oh, Hannibal, you are so masterful,” she teased. She was wearing a flimsy nightgown with a blue silk dressing gown hanging loosely over the top.

“Will you keep your voice down?” he hissed, as he wiped away the remaining soap with a towel. Elizabeth ran a finger along his jaw line.

“Very smooth,” she commented and he brushed her hand away.

“I’ll get out of here,” he told her. “Kid’s gone to check on the horses.”

“There’s no rush,” she said, standing in front of the door.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve locked it,” Heyes said, remembering another time when she had done just that. Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at him, mischievously.

“Don’t worry your escape route is clear.”

They heard voices in the corridor. Heyes opened the door a fraction to see a maid and a handy man outside. The woman was instructing the man on where to put a curtain rail. The handyman opened up his stepladder and climbed up to examine the spot. Heyes closed the door.

“We can’t leave yet,” he told the dark-haired woman. “You may not care but if that desk clerk gets even the slightest hint of anything improper going on, he’ll have us out of the hotel for sure.”

“We’re adults, why should he worry?” she asked.

“I told him you were my sister,” Heyes admitted sheepishly.

“What? Why?”

“It’s the first thing that came into my head,” he told her.

“Since when have you started thinking of me as a sister?” she asked, her teeth clenched, her hands on her hips.

“I don’t, I just…I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”

“I could have been your wife,” she suggested.

“I thought we’d had enough of that, with Kid.”

“I thought you were supposed to have a sharp mind. I thought you were a genius,” she scolded.

“So I had an off day,” he declared. “Seeing you cuddling up to Kid all day must have put me off.”

“Oh, Hannibal, were you jealous?”

“Are you ever gonna call me Heyes?” he asked, ignoring her question.

Elizabeth moved to stand beside him.

“You didn’t answer my question,” she told him.

“No I didn’t.”

“Anyway a sister could visit you in your room.”

“Not dressed like that,” he told her as his eyes fell on her night clothes. “I just don’t want anyone asking awkward questions.”

“Did you arrange this, so that I could stay?” she asked seductively.

“No,” he told her flatly.

“Well then, what shall we do to pass the time?” she asked, innocently.

***

Elizabeth Darkly woke to find her head resting on Hannibal Heyes’ bare chest, her arm across his waist. She was lying beside him on the bed, dressed in her nightclothes, although he still had his shirt off. She gave a satisfied sigh.

“You awake?” Heyes asked, as he felt her stir.

“No,” she told him, running her fingers over the outline of his ribs. He gently stroked her hair. Two big brown eyes looked up at him. “We could stay here all day,” she suggested.

“Well it would give the maid something to talk about,” Heyes told her, as he brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. “You need to go and have breakfast with your husband,” he reminded her.

“He’s very understanding,” Elizabeth decided, turning to rest her hand and chin on his chest.

“He’s probably gonna flatten me later,” Heyes told her.

“We haven’t done anything wrong. We haven’t done anything at all,” she said truthfully, and with a hint of regret.

“Yeah, but he doesn’t know that.” He wasn’t sure Kid would believe they had sat on the bed waiting for a handy man to finish his work outside, and that Elizabeth had fallen asleep. He didn’t think Kid would believe that Hannibal Heyes hadn’t been able to think of a way to get Elizabeth out of the room. He had to admit he was finding it hard to believe himself. Elizabeth seemed to affect his ability to think clearly.

“Oh, it’s Tuesday,” she said, suddenly. “My anniversary. I have to go up to Nathaniel’s grave.”

They were silent for a moment.

“I didn’t expect to like you so much,” she told him, truthfully.

“Me neither,” he replied, gently stroking her cheek. Elizabeth pulled herself towards him, planting a light kiss on his lips.

“We could always skip breakfast,” she suggested and his mouth covered hers, the kiss growing more intense as his fingers caressed her hair.

There was a knock on the door.

“Joshua!” Kid called. Pound. Pound. Pound.

“Will you shoot him for me?” Elizabeth asked and Heyes smiled.

“No, he’s my partner.”

“Joshua!” Kid called again and Heyes eased himself off the bed.

“And he’s supposed to be your husband,” Heyes reminded her, as he unlocked the door.

“Ain’t you ready yet?” Kid asked as he entered the room, surprised to see Heyes still shirtless. “Oh,” he added when his eyes fell on Elizabeth, draped across a pillow.

“We didn’t do anything,” Heyes said, not sure why he felt the need to explain. Kid held out two palms towards him.

“I don’t need to hear unless anyone sees you, in which case I may have to give you a black eye.” He turned to Elizabeth. “The Jenkins are downstairs wondering when my wife is coming down for breakfast.”

Elizabeth stood up and walked towards him.

“You plannin’ on getting’ dressed?” Kid asked and she moved closer, fluttering her eyelashes as she looked up at him.

“Unless my husband has something else in mind,” she cooed, seductively.

“Will you just go get dressed!” Kid snapped, stepping away from her. Elizabeth smiled, blew a kiss to Heyes and having checked the corridor was clear, scurried back to her room.

“What do you see in her?” Kid asked his partner.

“It wasn’t obvious?” Heyes asked, an amused smile on his face.

“Not to me,” Kid told him.

“Are you two ever gonna get along?” Heyes asked.

“She shot you Heyes,” Kid stated. “I was covered in your blood. Something like that’s kinda hard to forget.”

His partner didn’t have an answer to that.

***

Elizabeth stood beside Nathaniel Darkly’s grave, lost in her thoughts. At first, she remembered better times, with her handsome husband. They had not been married long, but she had to admit they had been happy. And then a vision of a cold damp day came back to her. She was standing beside a hole, watching, as four men she did not know, lowered his coffin into the ground.

Heyes waited a respectful distance away, giving the dark-haired woman time with her thoughts. He watched as she laid flowers on the grave. Elizabeth placed a hand flat on the earth, as if hoping to feel her late husband or send her presence to him. She stood and Heyes saw her saying something before she walked back to the dark-haired man, waiting patiently by the buggy he’d hired. Her eyes were tear stained. Heyes put a hand on Elizabeth’s arm and she looked up at him, meeting his warm brown eyes.

“You alright?” he asked and she nodded, not trusting her voice just yet. Heyes helped her into the buggy, and they rode in silence back to the hotel.

***

The three companions sat in the hotel dining room, each nursing a cup of coffee, although Elizabeth’s contained a shot of medicinal brandy. Kid wasn’t quite sure what to say. He found himself confused by the sympathy he felt for a woman he had reluctantly come to know.

“So what exactly happened to your husband?” Heyes asked.

“Nathaniel had been in the saloon with a couple of other men who had also lost money in his grand scheme,” Elizabeth began. “Drowning their sorrows no doubt. He was walking back to the hotel. Someone heard a shot and called the sheriff. They found Nathaniel lying dead in the street. There was a bullet in his back.”

“And there was no clue as to who did it?” Heyes asked.

“No,” she looked up at him. “Well there were at least five people I know of who lost money because of his scheme. So they were all suspects but as no one had seen the shooting and all of them had alibis, there was little the sheriff could do.”

“Did he ask the right questions?” Heyes wondered.

“Friends of his lost their home because of Nathaniel. I don’t think he was too motivated,” Elizabeth admitted.

“He still the sheriff?” Kid asked.

“No,” Elizabeth said and she looked up at two sympathetic blue eyes. “Why, would you shoot him for me?”

“I’d consider it,” Kid told her lightly. She placed a hand on his and for once, he did not pull away as if touched by a hot poker.

“Do you remember the names of the people Nathaniel was dealing with?” Heyes asked and Kid shot him a look. He knew his partner was intrigued by an unsolved mystery, and, he had a pretty good idea what Heyes was thinking. They were going to get further involved, he could tell.

“I have Nathaniel’s book,” Elizabeth told them.

“Book?” Heyes’ brows furrowed.

“He kept a record of all his dealings and contacts in it.”

“And where is this book?” Heyes asked.

“I have it with me. It’s in my room.”

“Can I see it?”

“Heyes,” Kid cautioned, watching as his friend talked them into something he knew they might regret.

“Just a look Kid, that’s all.” Heyes gave his partner an innocent smile and Kid rolled his eyes.

***

Hannibal Heyes sat on his bed reading through the small brown book Elizabeth had given him. Kid sat at the table cleaning his gun. It didn’t need cleaning. He just didn’t know what else to do while he waited for his friend to work out Nathaniel’s secrets and solve the mystery of who murdered him. With any luck, Heyes would have sorted it all out by dinnertime.

“I’m surprised she trusted you with that,” Kid said, conversationally. No response. He went back to cleaning.

“Find anything interesting?” Kid asked a few moments later. Still no response. “Heyes?” Nothing. Kid looked up at his friend.

“HEYES!”

A dark haired head looked up.

“Huh?”

“I know you heard me,” Kid accused. “Find anything interesting?”

“Maybe,” Heyes said, vaguely. Kid sighed and turned his attention back to his gun.

***

They dined in the hotel that evening, happy to have learned, that the Jenkins had left for Jackson Gap, on the stage that afternoon, but Elizabeth soon had to retire to her room with a headache. The emotions of the day seeming to have caught up with the woman they had thought irrepressible. Kid refrained from passing comment this time.

The partners headed across the street, following the sound of a badly played piano to the bright lights of the saloon.

“Hi fellas,” a woman said. They looked up to see an attractive, tall, brown-haired saloon girl sashay along the bar towards them. She was older than most of the other working girls in the room, perhaps in her early thirties. Her brown hair was pinned up with a red comb. Her low cut, tight-waisted, red dress showed off her figure to both men’s satisfaction.

“Are you looking for some company?” she asked Heyes. He smiled kindly at her.

“Not right now,” he told her. “I have my eye on a poker game.”

“What about your friend? Oh, you have such beautiful blue eyes,” she cooed, as she moved to stand in front of Kid. Heyes turned to see Kid give the woman his charming smile.

“I’m hoping to join the game too,” Kid said apologetically.

“Now ain’t that a pity?” she said running her fingers down his vest and giving it a playful tug.

“Er ma’am,” Heyes interrupted.

“Oh, honey, you can call me Rachel,” she told the handsome dark-haired man.

“Well Rachel, could I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure sweetie, what d’you want to know?”

“How long have you worked here?”

“Too many years, honey; seems like a lifetime.”

“Well, about three or four years ago, do you remember there was a man gunned down in the street one night?” Heyes reminded her.

“Oh, there have been many of those,” she told him and then added as an after thought, “Are you lawmen?”

Heyes smiled.

“No. And the man we’re interested in was shot in the back,” he told her.

“Name of Darkly,” Kid added.

Rachel froze.

“Darkly?” she said, and from the look on her face, it was clear she recognised the name.

“D’you remember him?” Heyes asked.

“Oh, a lot of folks around here know of Nathaniel Darkly, if that’s who you mean?” she said and Heyes nodded. “Lot of folks lost a lot of money ‘cos of him, if I remember. Some lost their homes, even their families.” She looked from the dark-haired man to his blond friend, trying to work out who they were, and what their interest was in Nathaniel Darkly. “Look if you ain’t buying my time or a drink, I’m sure there are others who will.” Rachel turned and walked away, clearly disappointed in them.

“Kid, I’m gonna join the poker game,” Heyes told his friend. “I’ll see what else I can find out from the locals. Might even win a few dollars too.” Heyes smiled at his partner. “Why don’t you go buy Rachel a drink and keep her company for a while? See what else she knows.”

“I was hoping to play a little poker too,” Kid told his friend. “Why do I hafta do it?”

“Cos you got such beautiful blue eyes,” Heyes cooed, mimicking Rachel as he did so.

Kid rolled those same blue eyes and headed along the bar towards the brown-haired woman.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked her.

“Well, I hoped you’d change your mind, blue eyes,” she said with a smile.

“My name’s Thaddeus,” Kid told her.

“Well, Thaddeus, I’ll have a whiskey and why don’t you bring it over to that corner table, then we can have a little privacy,” she suggested, as she walked away from him. Kid caught the bartender’s eye and bought two whiskies, then thought better of it and took the bottle as well. He placed a drink in front of Rachel, as he sat down.

“So, what brings you into town?” Rachel asked, running a hand up and down Kid’s arm.

“I’m helping a friend,” he told her, honestly. “Rachel, can you tell me some more about Nathaniel Darkly and what happened here?”

“Oh, is that it?” She sat back, removing her hand, disappointed in him.

“Please,” Kid said.

“Why are you so interested in Darkly?” she asked. “He a friend of yours?”

“No, I never met the man, but he was the husband to a…” Kid realised he was just about to describe Elizabeth Darkly as a friend. He gave an ironic smile. “His wife , widow, is a friend of mine,” he told Rachel.

“You should be more choosy about who you pick as a friend,” Rachel said, venomously.

“Care to explain?” She clearly didn’t. “Please,” Kid added and his blue eyes met her brown ones.

“Nathaniel Darkly came here full of promises and he suckered a lot of people. People believed his talk of the railroad coming and they spent their life savings buying land and investing in his ideas. Then when it all fell through…Well there’s a lot of folks none too worried that he’s dead. A lot more wish they’d done it themselves.” Rachel pushed back her chair and stood up. Kid stood up too.

“You finished with me mister?” she asked, slipping back into professional mode and turned to go. Kid caught hold of her arm.

“Rachel I…”

“If we ain’t going upstairs, I’ll go find someone who will. My time is money and I won’t waste it talking about a man like Nathaniel Darkly.”

Kid saw the angry determination in her eyes.

“I’m finished,” he told her and watched sadly, as she walked away.

***

“Find out anything?” Heyes asked, when they returned to the hotel later that night.

“Yeah,” Kid said, as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “Nathaniel Darkly was not a popular man in Miller’s Lake. Seems there were a whole lot of folks would have liked to have killed him themselves.”

Heyes could tell there was something else and he waited to see what more his partner would say. Kid dropped his right boot on the floor and began working on removing the left one.

“Well, what else?” Heyes prompted and Kid looked up.

“Oh yeah, I got the feeling Rachel was one of them.”

“Think she’d tell you anymore?”

“Not unless…” Kid smiled to himself. “Well maybe.”

“Well, she does like those big blue eyes of yours, so why don’t you go flash ‘em at her a bit more,” his partner teased.

“I think I’d have to flash a little more than my eyes to get anymore information.”

Heyes smiled wickedly at his friend.

“No Heyes! No way!” Kid told him adamantly.

“Well there are five men listed in Nathaniel’s book, who lost enough to be real angry about it,” Heyes stated, as he sat down on his own bed. “I guess they’re the men Rachel was talking about. I think we need to find out.”

“What are you plannin’ to do? Walk up to each one in turn and ask them if they shot Elizabeth’s husband, in the back?” Kid asked, and then looked up when his partner didn’t answer. “Heyes?”

“You know Kid, that’ not a bad idea,” the dark-haired man told him.

“Wrong, Heyes, it’s a terrible idea,” Kid said. “And one that’s likely to get you shot.”

“I still think we should go pay these folks a visit,” Heyes said. “And I’ve got you to watch my back.”

Kid’s expression told Hannibal Heyes just how much that statement worried him.

***

It was a prosperous looking ranch, consisting of a large house, a big stable and barn, and a long bunkhouse across from the corral. Several cowboys were in the corral at that moment, working with a very large, highly spirited, black horse.

“Which one’s this again?” Kid asked, as he leaned on his saddle horn.

“Douglas Mason,” Heyes told him, looking at a page in Nathaniel’s book.

“Doesn’t look like the guy suffered too much,” Kid observed, as they rode side by side down the hill to the Circle C.

As they approached the ranch house, the front door opened. A tall, well-built, grey-haired man emerged and strode confidently along the veranda. He stopped at the end, watching, as the two men on horse back, drew nearer.

“Good morning,” Heyes called, his voice friendly.

“Morning,” the man replied, studying each man and noting their tied down guns. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“We’re looking for Mr. Mason, Douglas Mason,” Heyes informed him.

“And what’s your business with Mr. Mason?” the tall man asked.

“Are you Mason?” Kid asked, directly.

“What’s your business here boys?” the man asked again, and Heyes and Kid saw three men approaching from the barn. Two more ranch hands were heading their way from the corral.

“We’re interested in some land,” Hannibal Heyes told him.

“We’ve got none for sale here,” he told them, assuming they were looking to buy.

“Well, we’d like to discuss that with Mr. Mason,” Kid told him.

“You just did,” the man replied, meeting Kid’s eyes.

“Well, pleased to meet you,” Heyes said. “My name’s Joshua Smith and this here’s my partner Thaddeus Jones,” he waved a hand in Kid’s direction.

“We have some other business to discuss. Mind if we step down?” he asked and began to climb from the saddle. There was the sound of a rifle being cocked.

“Hold it right there boys,” a voice said behind them.

“Hey, we’re not looking for trouble,” Heyes stated.

“Neither are we,” Mason said, waving a hand at the man with the rifle. “I’d prefer you just stay where you are. So what’s this other business?”

Now that there was at least one gun trained on them, Heyes hesitated, before mentioning Elizabeth’s husband. He took a deep breath.

“It’s about a man named Nathaniel Darkly.” Heyes saw Mason stiffen.

“What about him?” Mason wanted to know.

Heyes thought about Kid’s earlier remark to him.

“We heard you were one of the people who invested with him.”

“One of the fools you mean?” Mason corrected.

“Did you lose a lot of money?” Kid asked.

“Well now I reckon that’s my business, don’t you,” Mason told him. He looked from the blond man to his dark-haired companion. “What exactly do you want to know?”

“We’re friends of Mr. Darkly’s widow,” Heyes told him. “She’s just trying to close the book you might say.”

“So you came out here to see if I looked like someone who’d shoot a man in the back?”

The partner’s had to admire the man’s candour. They remained silent.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Douglas Mason said. “I lost a lot of money in my deal with Darkly, but then it was a gamble and I knew that. He never tried to hide the fact. There were no guarantees the railroad would come through Miller’s Lake. We entered a business deal, gambled and lost. He lost too. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t hold him responsible and I certainly didn’t wish him dead because of it.”

He met their gaze.

“If you’re looking to point the finger of blame, you might want to look at some of the smaller investors. As it stands I now own a pretty nice looking mountain.” He smiled. “Now I think we’re finished here. Good day to you.”

It was clear the partners were expected to ride out. No one said a thing. No one moved. Eventually, Heyes touched the brim of his hat and Kid did the same. They turned their horses away from the house and, still keeping their eyes on the ranch hands, and in particular, the man with the rifle, they rode away from the Circle C.

***

“What d’you think?” Kid asked, when the ranch was out of firing range and they finally eased their horses to a halt.

“I think he was telling the truth,” Heyes stated, as he removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair, brushing a few wayward strands back in place.

“So who do we go see next?”

“How about Winston Fuller?” Heyes suggested, and his friend nodded, turning his horse towards the distant hills.

***

The Fuller homestead consisted of a single two-storey building with a small barn to one side with a corral attached.

Clarissa Fuller was hanging washing on a line, stretched between the house and a tree, when she spotted two men riding towards her. She brushed a strand of hair from her face and shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand, watching the men draw closer.

“Winston!”, she called towards the house. “Winston! We got company.”

A man’s voice called out something. Clarissa didn’t hear what was said, but the tone told her, her husband wasn’t happy. As the riders drew closer, she saw that they were young men, one dark, one fair, and more importantly, they wore their guns tied down.

“Winston!” she called again, sensing approaching trouble. Clarissa stooped to pick up her empty laundry basket and headed back to the house, just as her husband appeared on the porch, carrying his rifle.

“What is it woman?” he asked somewhat tersely and then he saw the riders.

The two men pulled their horses to a halt some way out, dismounted and then led the animals towards the house. Heyes had suggested this would make them appear less threatening. Kid just thought it meant they had to walk further before the talking started.

“Howdy!” Heyes called, once more using his friendliest tone. He touched the brim of his hat to the woman and Kid did likewise.

“Ma’am,” they said almost in unison.

“Howdy,” Winston Fuller replied. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and large muscled arms. He was a man used to a lot of physical work and his physique showed that.

“I wonder if you can help us?” Heyes continued. “We’re making some enquires for a friend. We just want to ask you folks a few questions, if that’s alright?”

There was a sudden familiar sound behind them and Kid spun round fast, his gun, swiftly in his hand.

Clarissa gasped, first because she had never seen anyone draw a gun that fast and second, because the blond-haired man was now pointing his Colt at her twelve-year-old son, Evan.

“Evan no!” his mother cried, as her son pointed a handgun at the men.

Beside his partner, Heyes froze. Kid raised his left hand to show the boy it was empty and he meant no threat.

“Easy son,” he said. “I’m not gonna shoot.” Kid slowly pointed his gun skywards, watching for any reaction from the boy. The gun Evan held, wavered in his hands but remained aimed at Kid’s head.

“Evan lower the gun,” Winston ordered. Reluctantly, the boy did as his father told him. The adults all breathed a sigh of relief. “Come here son,” Winston said and the dark-haired boy walked cautiously to his father’s side, keeping his eyes on Kid the whole time.

“I didn’t mean to scare you ma’am,” Kid said, as the boy reached his mother and she placed a protective hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about that.”

But the woman seemed transfixed by Kid’s gun. He replaced it, slowly, in his holster.

“Mr. Fuller?” Heyes asked and the big man nodded. “I’m Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones.” Kid gave them a friendly smile, but it did little to lessen the woman’s fear of him.

“May we ask you some questions?” Heyes continued.

“What sort of questions?” Fuller wanted to know.

“About a man named Nathaniel Darkly.” Heyes had decided just to come right out with it from the start, although with Kid showing off his fast draw, it hadn’t exactly been the start he had hoped for.

Winston Fuller raised his rifle at them.

“I think you’d better leave now,” he told them.

“Whoa, Mr. Fuller!” Heyes cautioned, as he raised his hands. “There’s no need for that. We’re not trying to cause any trouble.”

“Well that’s all that man did for us,” Clarissa stated, venomously.

“Sir, his widow is in town and she’s just trying to find out…” Heyes continued.

“His widow!” Clarissa hissed. “That woman was as bad as her husband.”

“Boys I think you’d best be leaving,” Winston told them. He aimed his rifle at them once more. “I’ve got nothing to say about Nathaniel Darkly.”

“I understand you folks lost a lot, when the railroad didn’t come through,” Heyes continued and Kid had to give his partner credit for persistence. A man was holding a rifle on them telling them to ‘get’ but still Heyes kept talking.

“Too right we did.” Fuller almost spat out the words. “My home ain’t my own no more. Douglas Mason owns this land now and Darkly’s dead which is no more than he deserved. I ain’t got nothing to say to you or his widow. Now you boys better get going, before I regret stopping my son shooting ya.”

Heyes decided it was best not to challenge Fuller on whether his son would have stood a chance against Kid Curry. Instead, both men wished the Fuller family, Good Day, mounted their horses and rode out.

“Nice friendly family,” Kid observed when they reached the top of the ridge.

“They’re just angry Kid,” Heyes reminded him.

“Well angry is gonna get their son killed if he pulls a stunt like that again,” Kid stated with genuine concern for a boy he knew was only trying to protect the people he loved. Something that had also made him pick up a gun many years before.

“What do you want to do now?” Kid asked.

“How about we ride out to the Straley place? It’s on the way back,” Heyes suggested, as he sat flicking through Nathaniel’s notebook.

“Well I don’t expect we’ll get any better reception there,” Kid complained.

They rode towards the river, following the directions the livery stable owner had given them. Heyes and Kid were surprised when they turned a bend in the river and came upon a burnt out cabin. A man dressed in dirty overalls was throwing the charred remains of furniture and farm tools into the back of a wagon. He looked up when Heyes and Kid rode towards him.

“Howdy fellas,” the man called.

“Hi there. Are you Irwin Straley?” Heyes asked, as they pulled their horses along side the wagon.

“No sir. I’m Zack Dawson. You’ll find Irwin up on the hill,” the man told them, nodding in the direction of a small rise. There were two mounds of earth and stone markers beneath a tree. Dawson saw the puzzled expressions on the young men’s faces. “Yeah, Irwin’s buried up there.”

“Did he die in the fire?” Kid asked, casting sad eyes over the shell of the house.

“Oh no, this happened after….” Dawson nodded towards the graves once more. “Just a couple of weeks back. Pity. Some folks were hoping to move in.”

“How’d he die?” Heyes asked.

“Drank himself to death,” Dawson said sadly, as he remembered a man he had thought of as a friend.

“Do you know anything about a man named Nathaniel Darkly?” Heyes asked him.

“I remember the name. The one with the grand scheme to make a killing out of the railroad, is that it?” He looked to Heyes for confirmation and the dark-haired man nodded. “Irwin lost a lot of money in that deal. Borrowed heavily. Put his house and land up as collateral. He couldn’t repay the bank. Had to sell it all. They sent the children to their grandparents.”

“They?” Kid asked.

“Irwin and his wife Rebecca. The two children were sent to Rebecca’s folks in Wyoming.” Dawson didn’t like talking about his friend. “Look fellas I got work to do.”

“It’s okay. Thanks for your help,” Heyes said and they turned their horses away from the remains of a family’s home and the two silent graves.

***

The skies grew darker and it began to rain, as they headed back to town. Both men turned up the collars of their jackets and pulled their hats down, hoping to gain some protection from the pounding rain. It had been a dismal, not entirely productive morning and now the weather had turned against them too. There had been little rain in the region for the past few weeks and the trail grew slippery, as water pooled on its surface or formed small rivers across their path.

“Easy,” Kid said to his horse, as it lost its footing for the third time in as many minutes.

Beside him, Heyes was also struggling to control his horse, as the animal grew skittish. They descended a bank to the edge of a small stream, the ground turning to a quagmire, near the bottom of the slope. There was a flash of lightning and a loud clap of thunder. Another bolt of lightning hit a tree some distance away, causing Kid’s horse to rear up. He struggled to control the animal but then its legs slid out from under it on the muddy ground and Kid and his horse went crashing down. Kid lay still as his horse struggled to stand up.

“Kid!” Heyes called, as he leapt from his saddle. His partner was not moving. “Kid?” Heyes crouched beside his friend who was lying on his back in the mud.

“Oh,” Kid groaned and he opened his eyes to see Heyes standing over him.

“You okay?” his partner asked.

“No,” Kid said, not moving.

“Anything broken?”

“No.”

“Need a hand to get up?” Heyes asked, peering down at his friend, as the rain pounded on his own hat.

“No. Oh,” Kid groaned again, as he pulled himself to his knees. His back was covered in mud, his hat squashed onto his head.

“You sure you’re okay?” Heyes asked, unconvinced.

“Yeah, just winded,” Kid assured him, as he tried to stand up. His foot slipped as he put his weight on it and Heyes grabbed his arm before Kid fell over again. Unfortunately, Heyes own footing was none too secure and he went crashing down on top of his partner.

“Oof!” Kid cried, as Heyes flattened him into the mud. “WILL YOU GET OFF ME!” Kid yelled, as he struggled to free himself.

“Now don’t get proddy! I was trying to help” Heyes told his friend, as he pulled himself to his feet.

“Well don’t!” Kid told him.

The front of Heyes’ shirt and pants were now covered in mud. Once again, he held out a hand to his partner.

“I can manage on my own!” Kid told him tersely, as he struggled to his knees and finally pulled himself to his feet. Kid’s horse had managed to get back on four legs without any help from Heyes’ horse and they were standing companionably together a few feet away. The two mud covered men looked at each other.

“Terrific!” Kid said and wiped a hand across his face to remove some of the mud. All he managed to do was smear it. He walked towards his horse. His jeans sticking to his legs as he did so. Having checked out his horse, he pulled himself into the saddle, sitting down with a squish. “Oh sheesh.”

Heyes smiled, as he pulled himself onto his own horse, but the smile faded when he sat in the saddle and his pants clung to his legs. The rain continued to pound on them, as they turned their horses towards town.

“This has not turned out to be the best of days,” Kid commented, as the skies flashed with lightning and he waited to be struck at any moment.

“Well we’ve found out a few things about Nathaniel,” Heyes reminded him, as the dark clouds began to move away and bolts of lightning danced towards the horizon.

“And just what have we found out?” Kid asked, turning in the saddle to face his friend. “That a lot of folks lost a lot of money? Well we already knew that! And now we’ve been threatened and we’re both covered in mud. I don’t see that as an improvement do you?” Kid urged his horse on.

Heyes felt it best not to respond when Kid was in such a proddy mood. He watched his partner for a moment, then tapped his heels against his horse’s flanks and caught up with his friend.

***

“Oh that feels good,” Kid said, slipping beneath the surface of the hot water. Steam rose from the bath as he rested his back against the metal tub and sighed. Heyes’ suggestion that they see if the barbershop and bath house was open, when they returned to town, had been the best one he’d had all day. Having left their horses at the livery stable, with a request for the saddles to be cleaned, they were pleased to see the barbershop open, lights blazing in the windows.

“Sure,” Horace Threadgood had assured them. “Two baths? No problem.” And then he charged them double because it was ‘after two’. Kid and Heyes couldn’t see why that made a difference, but the water was so inviting, they didn’t have the heart to argue, for too long. Their clothes had been sent away to be washed and a boy sent to the hotel to collect fresh ones for them.

As he sat back, soaking his aching muscles, Kid had to admit it was worth every cent.

“You know Joshua, it’s at times like this I realise why they call you a genius,” Kid stated, generously.

Beside him in a bath of equally warm and luxuriant water, Hannibal Heyes sat back and smiled. He removed a cigar from his mouth and blew out a long trail of smoke.

“Thank you Thaddeus. I thought you would approve.” He nodded when Horace approached with another bucket of hot water. The barber poured it in around Heyes’ feet and a scented aroma rose from the bubbles covering the surface of the water.

“Now if you gents don’t mind I missed ma lunch,” Horace told them. “So I’ll be heading over to the café. I shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes or so.”

The two men nodded, that was fine by them, and heard the door close when the barber left.

Kid eased himself down below the raft of foam, dunking his head below the water.

“So this is where you are,” a female voice said behind them and Kid shot back up, swallowing a mouthful of water as he did so. He broke into a fit of coughing and Elizabeth Darkly thumped him a couple of times on the back. It didn’t help Kid but it made her feel better. She moved to stand at the foot end of their baths.

“Will you get outta here!” Kid yelled, in between coughs.

“Now is that anyway to speak to the woman who brought your clean clothes?” she asked, placing pants, shirts and underwear on a nearby stool. Elizabeth turned her attention to Heyes, who was sitting back in his tub, clearly unconcerned by her presence. Elizabeth crouched down beside him.

“My Hannibal, what big bubbles you have,” she cooed.

“Want to help me pop them?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at her.

“Will you stop encouraging her!” Kid snapped, as he tried to steer the bubbles on the surface of his bath to cover strategic areas.

Amused by his attempts to preserve his modesty, Elizabeth quipped, “Oh Kid, don’t make a fuss over a little thing like that.”

Heyes let out a snort of laughter, nearly swallowing his cigar and Kid shot him a glare.

“So,” she said, turning her attention back to Heyes. “What did you find out?” She reached down and popped a bubble.

“Nathaniel wasn’t very popular. Douglas Mason didn’t seem too bothered about the amount he lost, even bought up one of the other investor’s land.”

“Can we talk about this later?” Kid asked, feeling decidedly exposed beside them.

“You’re right,” Elizabeth told him. “This isn’t the place.” Her eyes fell on the water in Heyes’ bath.

“Think there’s room for two in there?” she asked him.

“Want to find out?” he offered. “Shame to waste all this hot water.”

“Heyes!” Kid hissed.

“What’s the matter Kid?” Elizabeth asked, turning her smile on him. “Would you rather I shared a bath with my husband?”

“No!” Kid told her adamantly and Elizabeth and his partner smiled at him. “Oh, c’mon you two cut it out!”

“Alright, I’m going. I’ll see you back at the hotel.” She stood up, but her eyes fell on Heyes’ wet torso. Elizabeth sighed.

“Another time perhaps,” she said and he winked at her. Elizabeth cast her eyes towards Kid, her gaze lingering long enough to make him uncomfortable.

“Just go, please!” he said and smiling, she left.

Kid looked across at his partner, who couldn’t seem to stop smiling at him.

“You’re as bad as she is,” Kid complained.

***

“Oh, it’s you,” Rachel said, as she saw a freshly scrubbed, Kid Curry enter the saloon and walk towards her. She turned to go. Kid caught hold of her arm.

“Please, Rachel, I’m just trying to help a friend. Help her find some answers,” he explained and he let go of her arm.

“Maybe your friend should have asked questions when her husband was alive?” She looked up to see two blue eyes on her.

“She feels that way too,” Kid told her. “Did Nathaniel Darkly affect your family?”

Rachel didn’t answer but her eyes gave her away. “What happened?” Kid asked gently.

“Go back to your friend, blue eyes,” Rachel said, as she turned to go. “Don’t start poking your nose in where it’s not wanted. I don’t want to see you get hurt.” At that, she walked away.

He set off after her again.

“Rachel, please,” he said, as he reached the end of the bar where she was now, stacking and un-stacking whisky glasses, much to the annoyance of the bartender.

“There’s an old abandoned wagon, on the north road out of town,” she said suddenly, casting a look around the room to see if anyone was listening. “It got stuck in the mud years ago, beside the river. I’ll meet you and Mrs. Darkly there just before sunset.”

“Rachel…” Kid began, but she waved him away.

“Just be there. I’ll tell her what she wants to know.” Rachel walked off and Kid went to find Heyes and Elizabeth.

***

“Mr. Smith!” a young boy called, as Heyes, Kid and Elizabeth left the hotel. Their horses were tied to the hitching rail. Heyes waited as the boy ran towards them. Kid and Elizabeth climbed into the saddle. Heyes took the telegram from the boy and read it.

“It’s from Lom,” he told them, “Need to confirm your location. Corn and friends ran into trouble,” Heyes read aloud.

“Corn?” Kid asked.

“I think it’s Lom’s form of code. I think he means Wheat,” Heyes told his friend and the partner’s exchanged a smile. “I guess the boys have been up to something and the Governor thinks we’re involved. Look, I’ll send Lom a telegram and then catch up with you.” He looked up at his friends.

“Okay,” Kid said and as he and Elizabeth headed out of town, towards the setting sun and the rendezvous with Rachel. Heyes headed towards the newspaper office to find out what the Devil’s Hole Gang had been up to this time.

***

The abandoned wagon was not difficult to find, stuck as it was in the mud beside the river, on the road north of town. Kid and Elizabeth dismounted and stood watching the evening sun sink slowly towards the distant mountains. After the storm, the fiery sky was a beautiful sight. Below them, the shallow river danced over rocks and boulders. The water turned golden in the evening light. On another day, it would have been the perfect place for a romantic picnic. Elizabeth walked to the river’s edge and, crouching down, dipped her hand in the cool water.

The sound of an approaching horse drew their attention and they turned to see Rachel Jordan ride up. She pulled her horse to a halt. Dressed in a man’s shirt and jeans, she slid easily from the saddle.

“So you’re Nathaniel Darkly’s wife,” Rachel said, as she approached Elizabeth. She gave Kid no more than a cursory glance.

“I’m his widow,” Elizabeth corrected, moving towards her. “Thaddeus tells me you’re willing to help me find out who killed my husband?”

“I told him I’d answer any questions you have,” Rachel replied. “I have something I think you should see.” Rachel returned to her horse and untied a jacket from the saddle. She walked towards them. Kid turned to give Elizabeth a reassuring smile, then turned back to face Rachel, just as she brought the handle of her Colt down on his head. Kid’s knees gave way and he dropped like the proverbial stone, to the ground. As a world of colours swirled about him, Kid heard raised voices and then a shot rang out.

***

The world was a blur of blue and grey. Then there were greens, yellows and a blurry fading orange light. Slowly the world came back into focus for Kid Curry and he groaned. He touched the left side of his head and groaned again, as he felt his hair wet with his own warm blood. Kid sat up slowly, and regretted it as the world shifted back and forth and finally stood still. He closed his eyes and then opened them again. A wave of nausea passed over him, as he eased himself onto his knees. Rachel had hit him with something. Kid looked around and saw a woman lying on the ground a few feet away.

“Elizabeth!” he called, as he staggered to his feet. “Oh no!” he said, as he reached her.

Elizabeth lay on her back, one bloody hand holding her right side. Her breathing was rapid, her face etched with pain. She dared not move. Her brown eyes fell on his.

“Kid,” she said, weakly, as he dropped to his knees beside her.

“Let me see,” he said gently, blinking away his own dizziness. Elizabeth removed her hand to reveal a bloody bullet hole in the fabric of her dress. Kid pulled at the material trying to get a better look at the wound. The fabric was tough and not for the first time in his life, Kid cursed the number of layers of clothing women wore. The wound was a single bloody hole. He eased Elizabeth gently onto her side, apologising as she cried out in pain. No exit wound. He lay Elizabeth gently back down. The bullet was still in there. Kid pulled off his bandana and used it to cover the wound. Her warm blood began to run through his fingers. Elizabeth cried out beneath the pressure of his touch.

“Sorry,” he said, not wanting to hurt her. He needed to find something else to dress the wound. Then he had to get her back to town.

“She did it,” Elizabeth said weakly. “She killed Nathaniel. She told me just before she shot me.”

Kid nodded, he had begun to suspect as much.

“She said her husband lost it all…They had to send their children away…She…” Elizabeth took a deep breath, as pain wracked her body.

“It’s okay, you can tell me this later,” Kid told her.

“No, I might forget,” Elizabeth insisted, her breathing coming in gasps.

Kid remembered two graves on the hill beneath a tree at the Straley’s place. They had just assumed the second grave was his wife but maybe…

“Elizabeth, press this down as much as you can,” he told her, as he removed his hand from the bloody bandana. It looked like another one of his shirts was about to be torn up. Elizabeth did as he asked, groaning as she did so.

“Her husband began to drink…When he threatened to send their children away…she took his rifle and…” She cried out, her eyes met Kid’s and he gave her a reassuring smile.

“You’re gonna be fine,” he told her, having no idea if it was true or not.

“She shot Nathaniel.”

Looking up, Kid saw their horses were still waiting patiently where they had left them. He would have to bring them closer. Then he heard a horse approaching and quickly drew his gun.

***

As Hannibal Heyes rode down to the riverbank, he saw Kid staring up at him, wide eyed, his gun in his hand. Elizabeth lay at his side, her dress covered in blood. A terrifying thought flashed through Heyes’ mind as he pulled his horse to a halt.

“Oh God, no!” Heyes said, his voice little more than a whisper “Kid?” he asked flatly, noticing the blood running down the left side of his partner’s face. There was no one else around. “What happened?”

“Elizabeth’s been shot,” Kid told him.

“I see that,” Heyes said. “Who shot her?” He made no move to get off his horse. He was watching his partner’s gun, waving in Kid’s blood covered hand. And that was when Kid Curry realised, with some annoyance, that his partner thought he had shot Elizabeth.

“I didn’t shoot her!” he said indignantly. “It was Rachel!”

Heyes relaxed a little but said nothing.

“Heyes just get off your horse and HELP ME!” Kid told him, as he holstered his gun and turned his attention back to the injured woman.

Feeling a little sheepish, Heyes was quickly at his partner’s side. Tears ran from Elizabeth’s eyes as Heyes brown eyes fell on hers.

“Hey, sweetheart, what happened to you?” he said, gently.

“Hannibal, I’ve been shot” she gasped and gave him a weak smile. “Have you come to save me?” she asked and Kid rolled his eyes.

“Of course,” Heyes told her, gallantly. “Didn’t picture you as a damsel in distress though,” he said and she groaned in pain. Elizabeth grabbed for Heyes’ sleeve and Kid quickly put his hand over the wound, trying to stop the blood flow once more.

“Heyes,” Kid said softly, meeting his partner’s eyes. The look they exchanged said more, about the gravity of the situation, than words could.

“I know Kid,” Heyes said, both men knew this was bad. “It’s gonna be all right Elizabeth,” he said soothingly. She smiled at him and her eyes closed. Heyes began to pull up her skirt, grabbing hold of her petticoats.

“Are you trying to take advantage of me Hannibal?” Elizabeth asked smiling weakly at him. “Only I don’t think I’m up to much at the moment. Maybe we should get rid of Kid first?”

Kid Curry shot his partner an amused look.

“Will you keep quiet?” Heyes told her gently. “You need to save your strength.” He tore strips off Elizabeth’s undergarments and began to fold them into dressings

“For later you mean? When Kid’s not around?” she was drifting towards unconsciousness. “You’re right. We’ll need all our stren…”

Heyes rolled his eyes, as Kid gave him a smile, did nothing stop this woman?

Heyes removed a knife from his boot, as Kid took his hand from Elizabeth’s side, and took the makeshift dressings from his partner. Heyes cut open the fabric of the dress, revealing more of Elizabeth’s blood covered skin. Kid handed a dressing to Heyes. The dark-haired man placed the material he had folded, over the wound. Elizabeth cried out as he applied pressure and Heyes sensed Kid flinch beside him, not wanting to see her hurt any more than she had been. Kid took over from his partner as Heyes prepared more dressings.

They worked quickly. By the time her wound was dressed and bound, both men’s hands were covered in blood.

“How we gonna get her to a doctor?” Kid asked, although he already knew the only answer.

They exchanged a weary look. They had cared for each other when they had been shot, but this was different. They had removed bullets from torn flesh, tended equally bloody wounds but never for a woman.

“You alright?” Heyes asked suddenly, looking at the blood on his partner’s head.

“Don’t worry about me Heyes, I’ll be fine,” Kid assured him, although he was less convinced than he sounded. His head was hurting and he felt a little nauseous. Given the chance, he would have curled up and gone to sleep.

“C’mon, let’s get her on your horse,” Kid suggested, as he pulled himself slowly to his feet. He went to get the animals. Heyes bent down and picked up Elizabeth. She cried out as he put her hand around his neck. Her eyes flickered open for a moment and tears rolled down her face as he carried her to his horse.

Between them, they hoisted Elizabeth into the saddle. The dark-haired man pulled himself up behind her and Elizabeth immediately slumped back against him. Kid handed his partner the reins, before pulling himself onto his own horse. They rode slowly back to town.

***

Doctor Elias Thornton lived, with his wife Mildred, above the General Store. One of the rooms he used as his office and surgery. Elias and his wife were in their fifties and they had lived in Miller’s Lake for the last ten years. Their son, Grant, was also a doctor and was currently staying with his parents before departing to take up a post at a new hospital in San Francisco. In his thirties, with the same dark hair his father had once had, Grant was looking forward to seeing his wife Arabella and their four-year-old son Eric again. His family, currently at Arabella’s parent’s home, would join him in San Francisco as soon as he was settled there. His sojourn with his own parents was almost over and he would be leaving the following week.

A loud banging on the door drew the attention of both medical men, as they sat reading in the parlour. When Grant opened the door, he saw two dusty and dirty cowboys supporting an unconscious woman between them.

“Are you the doctor?” the dark-haired cowboy asked.

“One of them,” Grant Thornton told him, as he looked the men up and down.

He was just about to admonish them on the dangers of too much alcohol, and suggest they take their lady friend to the hotel, when he saw the blood over the front of her dress and the makeshift bandage around her waist.

“She’s been shot,” the blond man said, and Dr. Grant stood to one side, ushering them inside.

Elias appeared from a back room, and immediately took in the situation.

“Bring her through here,” he said, indicating Grant’s bedroom at the front of the building, which, on occasions, doubled as a treatment room. Heyes and Kid carried Elizabeth to the bed and laid her gently down. She cried out, writhing in agony, even as her head touched the pillow. Elizabeth’s eyes opened and she grabbed for Heyes’ hand.

“Don’t leave me please,” she begged him, her grip tightening.

Heyes looked at the older doctor.

“Stay,” the man said and Heyes remained beside the bed holding Elizabeth’s hand in his. Kid moved out of the way as the two doctors went quickly about their work. A small grey-haired woman appeared in the doorway.

“Oh my,” Mildred said and moved quickly to Elizabeth’s side. She began to undo Elizabeth’s clothing. “What’s her name?”

“Elizabeth, Elizabeth Darkly,” Heyes told her.

“And you are?” Elias looked up at the two men.

“Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones,” Heyes told him.

“Smith and Jones?” the doctor looked sceptical.

“A lot of folks are called Smith and Jones,” Heyes reminded him somewhat tersely.

“Hmmm,” was the doctor’s only comment.

“I’ll wait outside,” Kid said to his partner, as he headed for the door.

“You too young man,” Mildred told Heyes.

He looked at Elias. The doctor nodded.

“Just for now. You can come back in a minute, when she’s decent,” Dr. Elias told him. Heyes suppressed a smile at the use of that word, then let go of Elizabeth’s hand.

“I’ll be just outside,” he whispered, although she did not appear to have heard him. “I’ll be back soon.”

***

Kid and Heyes stood in the corridor outside the room, each leaning against a wall, as their minds ran over what had happened. It was warm and Kid’s head was thumping. Feeling a little light headed, he rested his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.

“You thought I shot her,” Kid said. “I saw it in your eyes. Just for a moment.”

“Kid I….”

“I wouldn’t. I know I’ve said it, but I wouldn’t. Not a woman.” He opened his eyes and looked at his friend.

“I know,” Heyes assured him. “It just caught me by surprise,” Heyes tried to explain.

“Yeah,” Kid nodded vaguely, his eyes slowly closing.

Heyes looked up at his friend, ready to tell him he was sorry, but Kid began to slide down the wall, as his knees gave way.

“Easy!” Heyes called, as he reached out to grab his friend.

Kid’s eyes shot open in surprise, but they were unfocussed. Heyes held his friend upright against the wall.

“You okay?” he asked, although Kid clearly wasn’t.

The young doctor appeared from the sick room.

“Gentlemen, we have to remove the bullet. We need your help to hold her still,” he said. Then he saw Kid’s pale face and Heyes supporting him. He moved swiftly to help Heyes. “Let’s get him in here, to the couch,” Grant said, as he led the way into the parlour.

“It’s alright, Mr. Jones, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of people faint at the sight of blood,” the doctor said.

“Doc, it’s not the blood,” Heyes told the young doctor. “Believe me, he’s seen a lot of blood before. He got hit on the head.”

The young doctor looked up, finally taking a moment to study both men. He saw the dried blood in Kid’s hair.

“When did this happen?” he asked, as they lowered Kid onto the couch. He moved Kid’s hair aside and carefully examined the wound, trying to locate the point of impact amongst the matted hair.

“Just before she was shot,” Heyes replied.

“Did he lose consciousness?” Grant asked.

“I don’t know,” Heyes told him. “I wasn’t there.”

Kid’s eyes began to flutter open.

“Hey…”

“Hey yourself!” Heyes interrupted, before Kid could give away his name.

“Can you remember how you got this injury?” Grant asked Kid.

“Rachel hit me with something,” Kid stated.

“Did you pass out?” the young doctor asked.

“I don’t think so. I went a little distant…things were blurry…for a while. I heard voices…people shouting. Then a gun shot.”

“Can you see me clearly?” the doctor asked.

“I guess,” Kid told him.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Grant said, holding two fingers in front of Kid’s face.

“Oh, not you as well,” Kid groaned and Heyes suppressed a smile.

“Mr. Jones…” the doctor prompted.

“Two doc, I see two,” Kid said and the doctor continued with his examination, before recommending rest for Mr. Jones. Kid eased himself back on the couch.

Heyes patted Kid reassuringly on the shoulder. Then, satisfied that his partner could be left alone, he followed the young doctor from the room.

***

When Heyes entered the room, Elizabeth lay covered by a clean white sheet, but her bare shoulders suggested that she was naked beneath it, to the waist at least.

“This is no time for delicacies Mr. Smith,” Elias stated. “Elizabeth has a serious wound and I need to remove the bullet. If you are squeamish you’d better leave now,” he advised.

“I’ve seen bullets removed before,” Heyes told him.
“Alright,” the grey-haired medic said. His wife would hold Elizabeth’s legs still. Heyes stood at Elizabeth’s head, ready to hold down her shoulders should the need arise. The father and son medical team readied Elizabeth for the operation.

“I wish I had some laudanum, but as always we are still waiting for it to arrive,” Elias said sadly. “She’s semi-conscious, maybe she’ll stay that way throughout. I do hope so for her sake. This isn’t going to be pleasant for her.”

Or any of us, Heyes thought.

Elias turned to look at Heyes.

“We’ve had to remove Elizabeth’s clothing as you can understand. I’ll trust you to be discreet, Mr. Smith.”

There was that word again, Heyes thought.

“I know when to avert my gaze, doc,” Heyes told him and Elias pulled back the sheet. However, Mildred had placed a towel across Elizabeth’s torso to preserve her dignity. The doctors had cleaned the wound. Despite his promise, Heyes cast a glance at the small hole in Elizabeth’s delicate skin, made by the bullet. Such a small thing and yet so lethal. Elias nodded to his son and they began their work.

At their first touch, Elizabeth’s eyes shot open, and she fixed Heyes with a look of horror, as he held her down.

“Stay as still as you can,” Heyes advised her.

Elizabeth writhed beneath his firm grip as pain shot through her body. Heyes caught hold of her hand and held it tight. The doctors probed the wound. Dr. Grant opened the wound wider with one set of metal implements, while his father inserted a large pair of forceps into the bloody hole and to Heyes untrained eye began to ‘poke about’ inside.

Elizabeth screamed, as her skin was stretched further and the doctor probed deeper. Mildred made soothing sounds and Heyes felt Elizabeth hand close tightly around his, crushing his fingers together. He held her shoulders still, bending closer.

“It won’t be long,” he said. “Hang on Elizabeth. I know it hurts but it’ll be over soon, trust me it will,” he promised her.

Elizabeth met his eyes and he saw fear, pain and anger there.
Her teeth were clenched tight and she writhed again, the towel slipping to the floor. Heyes tried not to look at her body.

“Hold her still!” Elias commanded, sternly.

Heyes held her down, and looked up to watch the doctors working on the bloody wound.

Suddenly he felt Elizabeth go limp beneath his touch and her grip on his hand slacken.

“Elizabeth?” The worry he felt was clear in Heyes’ voice. “Elizabeth?”

The doctors looked up and the younger medic felt for a pulse in her neck.

“It’s alright,” Grant reassured the dark-haired man. “She’s just passed out.”

“There!” his father announced suddenly, as he held a bloody piece of metal between the jaws of his forceps. He dropped it with a clank into a metal basin. “We can stitch her up now,” he stated, pleased with a job well done.

“You can let go of her hand,” Mildred said having moved to Heyes’ side. “My husband and son can finish off now.”

“I’d like to stay,” he said.

“They’ll work quicker without you here,” she told him truthfully and firmly.

Heyes released Elizabeth’s hand and allowed the doctor’s wife to lead him away from the bed. When he looked up, he saw Kid standing in the doorway, leaning unsteadily against the frame.

“How is she?” he asked.

“The bullet’s out. She’s resting now,” Mildred told him. “As you should be,” she scolded the blond man and ushered both men from the room.

***

When he was allowed to return, Heyes pulled a chair close to Elizabeth’s bed and sat down beside her, taking her hand in his.

“You’re a fighter, Elizabeth. I expect you to fight now,” he told her. “Don’t give up, d’you hear me?” He didn’t think she could.

Kid stood in the open doorway and having heard his friend, he gently closed the door.

***

“Who shot her?” Dr. Grant asked Kid. The blond man looked up from his seat on the couch. The doctor looked tired after the traumatic operation on Elizabeth and he pushed a strand of dark hair away from his eyes.

Kid hesitated at first.

“Rachel Jordan. She works in the saloon,” Kid informed him.

“Why ever did she shoot her?” Grant asked.

“It’s a long story doc.” Kid looked back at the room where Elizabeth lay unconscious. “I’m not sure I know all the details myself.” He touched the wound on his head and flinched.

“Does that still hurt?” the young doctor asked.

“A little,” Kid said, although if he was honest it hurt a lot more than that. He had a thumping headache and wasn’t feeling particularly warm to the woman who had given it to him.

Dr. Grant moved beside him to examine the wound once more.

***

Sometime later, Kid put his head around the bedroom door and two tired brown eyes looked up at him.

“How is she?” he asked his partner.

“Fighting,” Heyes told him, as he fought sleep himself.

Kid entered the room and stood beside the bed.

“We’ve fought it. She will too,” Kid said, although he did not sound as confident as his words suggested. He moved to an armchair over by the window and sat down. “Why don’t you go and get some sleep? I’ll keep an eye on her,” he offered.

“I’m okay,” Heyes lied. “Maybe later. You have a head wound; you’re supposed to be resting.”

“Well, I’ll be here if you need me,” Kid said.

Heyes smiled gratefully at his partner and it wasn’t long before he heard the rhythmic sound of Kid’s breathing and knew his friend was asleep.

***

Heyes looked up when Dr. Elias entered the room.

The doctor looked from the dark-haired, Mr. Smith, who was clearly fighting sleep, to his blond-haired friend already asleep in the armchair. His son had informed him about Mr. Jones’ head wound.

“Is your friend all right?” the doctor asked.

“Yeah, he was just tired,” Heyes told him, as the doctor moved to Kid’s side.

“I understand he was hit over the head?” Dr. Elias cast a professional eye over the sleeping gunslinger.

“Yeah. Seems to happen to him a lot,” Heyes stated. “It’s a good job he’s got a thick skull.” The look he gave the blond man, as he said it, told the doctor that Mr. Smith was more worried about his friend than his joking would suggest.

“Your friends have had quite a day, Mr….Smith.” It was fairly obvious from the way the doctor said his name, that he doubted its authenticity. Elias moved to Elizabeth’s side.

The ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang said nothing, waiting to hear what the man would say next. To his relief, the doctor changed the subject.

“Are either of you gentlemen relatives of Elizabeth?” he asked, keeping his voice low, so as not to wake either of the injured people in the room. His question worried Heyes.

“No. No. We’re…er…good friends,” Heyes told him and the doctor raised an eyebrow but did not comment.

“Do you know if she has any close relatives? Who her next of kin might be?”

“Yes, a sister and…Wait a minute. How bad is it?” Heyes asked, when the gravity of his request hit him.

“As you know she’s lost a lot of blood. The trauma of simply removing the bullet is enough to kill some people. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know if she will survive this. If she makes it through the night, her chances will be better but…I’m sorry, that’s all I can tell you for the moment.”

“She’s a tough woman, doc,” Heyes told him, appreciating the doctor’s honesty.

“I hope so,” Elias said. “Just in case, who should I send a telegram to?”

Heyes had to admit he didn’t know. Only that Elizabeth was originally called Brinklemeyer and came from…where? Had she mentioned Boston? He realised how little he knew about the woman whose hand he was now holding so tightly.

***

For the next few hours, Heyes sat at Elizabeth’s bedside. At first, she slept quietly, her breathing steady, a serene expression on her face. However, as the night wore on she developed a fever. Elizabeth’s body temperature rose and she fought the infection that had set in. Mildred Thornton joined the dark-haired man, placing a cool cloth on Elizabeth’s forehead, bathing her arms and torso.

“Perhaps it would be better if you turn away for a moment,” Mildred suggested.

“Ma’am, she and I…” Heyes didn’t know what to say and found his face reddening.

“You are not her husband,” Mildred said, kindly.

Heyes nodded. He stood up and turned his back as Mildred did what she had to. Through it all, to Heyes’ amusement, his partner slept peacefully in the armchair.

***

As dawn broke, Dr. Elias entered the room to find Mr. Smith asleep at last. His head rested on the bed, but he was still holding Elizabeth’s hand. Mr. Jones had sunk further down in the armchair but, as the doctor entered the room, his eyes shot open. Kid fixed the doctor with a steely blue gaze until, having assessed the situation; he nodded a greeting to the older man. The doctor noted that one of Mr. Jones’ hands now rested on the butt of his gun. Who were these two men, he wondered? He had been impressed by the care they had shown for the injured woman, as well as for each other.

The doctor moved across the room and lifted Elizabeth’s wrist, taking her pulse. As he did so, Elizabeth called out for Nathaniel, her voice little more than a whisper, but it was enough to wake the dark-haired man at her side.

Heyes gave the doctor a concerned look.

“It’s all right. She’s doing well,” Elias told him.

Heyes heard Kid groan. He turned to check on his friend, who was pulling himself up in the armchair, and received a reassuring smile.

Then all three men looked up, when Elizabeth cried out, “Hannibal! Hannibal…where are you?”

The partners did their best not to respond to this.

Elias Thornton stood back. Elizabeth was still unconscious.

“Her pulse is a little rapid,” he stated, “but that’s to be expected. It’s stronger than it was.”

“Hannibal,” Elizabeth called again.

“The only Hannibal I’ve ever heard of is the one with the elephants. Where was that? The Alps? Oh and there’s Hannibal Heyes the outlaw,” the doctor said. “I don’t suppose she’s calling for him, do you?”

Kid and Heyes gave the doctor their most innocent smiles.

“Oh, I doubt that doc. How would she know him?” Heyes said.

“Indeed,” Elias replied. “Imagine that.” He looked from one man to the other and each gave him another innocent smile. Elias left the room and the two young men let out the breath they had been holding.

***

As the sun broke through the window, Heyes felt Elizabeth stir, once more. She opened her eyes and saw him sitting at her bedside holding her hand.

“Hannibal?” she said weakly and his eyes meet hers. He gave her a smile and a flash of those dimples she liked so much.

“Hello Elizabeth,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“It hurts,” she told him. “It hurts so much.”

“I’ll see if I can get you something for the pain,” he said and started to rise from his chair but she clung onto his hand.

“No, please don’t go. Please don’t leave me.” Her voice was pleading and she sounded scared. He had never heard that in her voice before. Heyes sat down again. He heard Kid moving behind him.

“She okay?” his friend asked.

“Yeah,” Heyes replied.

“Could I have some water?” Elizabeth asked and Kid moved to pour her some from the jug Mildred had left on the dresser.

“Are you alright?” Elizabeth asked Kid, as he handed the cup to Heyes. “I saw her hit you.”

“I’m okay,” Kid told her. “How about you?”

“It’s so painful,” she told him.

“It will ease,” he told her, honestly. “Trust me, we know.”

She smiled.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Heyes, as he supported her head and held the cup to her lips.

“For what?” he asked a little confused.

“For doing this to you; for hurting you like this.” She sipped the water and then rested back on the pillow.

“We’ve been over that,” he reminded her.

“Yes, but I didn’t know how much it hurt,” she told him and attempted a smile.

“Well what did you expect? A bullet shaped piece of metal penetrating your flesh at speed was sure to smart a little,” he joked.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Just sorry,” and she drifted off to sleep once more.

Kid took the cup from Heyes and placed it back on the dresser.

“Who’d have thought we’d be doing this for her?” he said.

***

Elizabeth woke a couple of times that morning, but she was still asleep when the sheriff arrived. He had been summoned by the doctors, concerned that a respectable woman had been shot by a saloon girl. Sheriff Jake Taylor was not the brightest man Heyes or Kid had ever met. In fact, both men agreed later that Kyle Murtry would have made a better sheriff.

“A man that dim could end up arresting himself,” Kid mumbled, when the sheriff had left and Heyes smiled.

However, the sheriff did question the partners about the shooting and nodded several times, as they told him what they knew. Then he asked the same questions again, as if needing to hear everything twice, before the facts would sink in. He told them Rachel Jordan, or rather, Rebecca Straley had disappeared. It seemed Rachel had chosen to use her middle and maiden names when she started working in the saloon. He confirmed what Elizabeth had told Kid. The Straley’s had lost everything in the deal with Nathaniel Darkly.

Irwin began to drink heavily. Then he sent the children to their grandparents in Wyoming. With no money coming in, Rebecca had become Rachel so her children would not know what their mother had been reduced to. Irwin got drunk one night, fell in the river and drowned.

“There were two graves,” Kid said.

“Oh yeah. The other one’s Kipper. Their dog,” the sheriff explained and the partner’s exchanged a look.

Some of Rachel’s things were missing from her room above the saloon, and her horse was no longer in the stable. He had no idea where she was headed but his deputies were asking questions. Heyes shot Kid a look when the deputies were mentioned, knowing they were both wondering how anyone could be even less qualified to be a lawman, than this sheriff.

“I suspect, she’ll head to her parents’ ranch,” Jake Taylor told them, knowledgeably. “That’s where she sent her children.”

The partners gave a sigh of relief when the sheriff finally left. Any lawman, however dim, made them nervous.

***

“Am I naked?” Elizabeth asked, suddenly.

Heyes had been sitting beside her, quietly reading, Kid having gone to fetch them both a cup of coffee. His head shot up and he was momentarily lost for words, something that had been happening a lot since she’d turned up. He smiled and raised his eyebrows at her.

“Almost,” he told her. “You still have your…er…under drawers on.”

“How do you know that?” Her voice sounded distant and Elizabeth was rewarded with a wicked smile. “Anything to get me naked huh?” she asked, mischievously. Then a thought struck her.

“Have you been taking advantage of me Hannibal? While I’ve been asleep?” she asked with mock horror and eased herself up slightly on the pillow. She was too weak to do much more.

“No,” he stated honestly and saw her grimace with pain. “Take it easy,” he advised.

“Well that’s a pity,” she said relaxing. Elizabeth snuggled down on the pillow, sleep beginning to claim her once more.

“Behave yourself,” Heyes said. “You’re injured.” He pulled the blanket up to her shoulders.

“I really wouldn’t…have minded if you had… I’d like you to…when…” but she was too tired to finish her sentence.

“Yeah, I bet you would,” he whispered, placing a kiss on her forehead. “But I think we’ll have to wait until you’re feeling better.”

“You’ve got a deal,” she said, startling him. He didn’t realise she was still awake.

“Be quiet and rest,” he scolded.

***

It was evening, on the second day, when Elizabeth woke to find Kid Curry now sitting at her bedside. He too sat holding her hand in his. He was dozing, his head propped up on his other hand. She smiled. He looked sweet and that made her smile even more. Kid Curry famous gunslinger, looked sweet, although she noted the bruising on the left side of his head. She gave Kid’s right arm a quick shove and his head slipped off his hand with a jolt, startling him awake.

“What?” he said, his eyes wide open, but not yet awake.

“Hello Kid,” she said, giving him a smile. Kid was not sure if she was the reason he had awoken so suddenly. He smiled back.

“Welcome back,” he said.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, somewhat suspiciously.

“Returning a favour,” he told her, as he held up her hand in his. “How are you feeling?”

“It still hurts,” she told him, honestly.

“Yeah, I bet it does,” he agreed.

“I’m sorry I did this, to Hannibal. I didn’t realise it hurt so much,” she admitted. Kid remained silent.

“Where is he?” she asked, weakly.

“In the other room. He was awake all night and most of today. He even collected our things from the hotel. I made him go get some sleep.”

“And you stayed to take care of me,” she mused.

“I’d better go get the doc,” Kid said. “He wanted to see you when you were awake.”

“Kid, will you do something for me?” Elizabeth asked. Kid looked puzzled, his brows furrowed. “Can I ask you something? Now that we’re alone?”

He had the horrible feeling that she was going to ask him something personal about Heyes.

“What?” he asked, nervously.

“Who’s Bilson?” she asked. Kid’s eyes shot up and met hers. He said nothing, and then looked away.

“Nothing to say?” she asked.

“The doctor in Grey Rock?” he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.

“No, I mean the one who gives you nightmares,” she stated.

Kid swallowed hard. Clearly, she knew more than he had given her credit for.

“Who told you?” he asked, hoping it had not been his partner.

“You did,” she said and she could see she would have to explain. “When you were shot at Devil’s Hole. You were calling out his name.”

Kid said nothing.

“I might be dying here Kid. I’m entitled to a last request.”

“Couldn’t you just ask for a kiss?” he said, hopefully.

“Someone has a high opinion of himself,” she teased. Kid had to smile at that.

“I just thought..”

“If a kiss becomes my last request, I hope you won’t be offended if I call for Hannibal?” She gave him a weak smile. “So…Bilson?”

“He’s dead,” Kid stated.

“Who was he?”

Kid closed his eyes and sighed. Then he opened them and looked up at her.

“For a while I thought he was a friend,” Kid told her. She waited. “He wasn’t.”

“What happened?” she prompted.

“I killed him.”

Again, Elizabeth waited for Kid to tell her more, but when the blond man looked up he said, “You need to rest.”

“Kid…”

“No, you don’t need to know any more. If you want that kiss I’d better get Heyes.”

“Please stay.”

“I won’t tell you anymore.”

“It’s okay. Just stay.”

“I really should get the doc,” he told her, standing up. “Don’t run off,” he said lightly.

“No chance of that. Besides, I don’t have any clothes on,” she told him.

“I know,” he said and gave her a wicked grin.

“Did you peek?” she asked, indignantly.

“When Preacher took the bullet out of my leg at Devil’s Hole, did you peek?” he asked her. She met his gaze.

“A lady doesn’t peek,” she informed him.

“I know Elizabeth, but what did you do?” he asked and she opened her mouth to protest, then thought better of it.

“I was your nurse. I was allowed to peek,” she told him.

“I thought so,” he told her and smiled as he walked away.

At the door he stopped, turning back to look at her lying in bed.

“Oh Elizabeth?”

“Yes?”

“I got more than a peek,” he told her. “Much more.” Her mouth dropped open. He smiled and turned to go.

“Kid!” she called and he stopped, looking at her over his shoulder. “So did I.” Kid actually seemed to blush before he left the room.

***

“Oh no,” Heyes said and Kid looked up to where his partner was standing by the window, looking out at the busy street below. Heyes moved back from the glass.

“What is it?” Kid asked, seeing the concerned look on Heyes’ face.

“It’s Morgan,” Heyes stated and Kid caught the slight hint of fear in his partner’s voice. He was swiftly at Heyes’ side.

“Where?” Kid asked, looking out through the lace curtains. “Oh no.” Kid spotted the tall, stocky, dark-haired sheriff, as he climbed from his horse. There were three other deputies with Sheriff Ray Morgan, a man they both knew, having once been held captive by him. Kid stepped away from the window and looked at his partner.

“What do we do?” he asked.

“We hafta get outta here,” Heyes said.

“We hafta get outta here,” Kid agreed.

“We can’t stay,” Heyes told him.

“We can’t stay,” Kid said too.

“Will you stop repeating everything I say!” Heyes snapped.

“Huh? Oh sorry.” Kid looked at Elizabeth lying quietly in bed. “What about…?”

“Yeah. What about…?” Heyes repeated and moved to Elizabeth’s side. “Elizabeth?” he said gently and she opened her eyes.

“Hannibal,” she murmured sweetly as she smiled at him.

“Elizabeth, something’s happened. Kid and I have to leave for a while,” he told her.

“What is it?” she asked, easing herself up on the pillow.

“A sheriff just rode in. One who knows us.”

“Oh. Can’t you hide here?” she asked, hopefully.

“No. I think our bumbling sheriff might just ask Morgan to come and see you. We can’t take the chance that he’ll see us. We’ve met him before and he’ll shoot before he asks questions believe me. We have to leave.” He looked up at Kid.

“I’ll go get our stuff,” the blond man said and hurried from the room. Fortunately, both doctors were out tending to patients and Mildred had left some time ago on a shopping expedition.

“Go,” Elizabeth said to Heyes. “I don’t want you getting caught.”

Heyes held her hand. A few moments later Kid re-entered the room carrying their saddlebags.

“If anyone asks, tell them we got a lead on Rachel,” Heyes told her. “We’ve gone to find her.”

“Alright,” she agreed.

Heyes picked up his book from the table and opening his saddlebags dropped it inside.

Kid went to Elizabeth’s side.

“You do what the doctor tells you,” he said kindly.

“I’ll think about it,” she replied, and looked up at the cut on Kid’s head. “Does that still hurt?” she asked tenderly.

Kid smiled. “I’m fine,” he told her. Kid leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips.

“Is that all I get?” Elizabeth asked, disappointed.

“In your condition? Yes,” he told her.

“Oh, is that a promise of something more, when I’m better, Kid?” Elizabeth teased and he rolled his eyes. “You know I do intend to complete my research.”

“I never doubted it,” he told her. “You take care.” Kid moved away and Heyes took his place. Kid stood by the window watching the street.

“So you’re leaving me again Hannibal,” Elizabeth said.

“For a while. We’ll come back as soon as we can.” He leaned forward and kissed her. Elizabeth put a hand behind his head and held him there; her fingers exploring his soft hair as she returned the kiss.

“Now that’s my kind of medicine,” she said when they broke apart. “I think I’ll need a lot more of that before I can get better.”

“Behave yourself,” Heyes told her with a grin.

“Without you around I’ll have to.”

“I’ll be back. I promise,” Heyes told her.

He stood up, still holding her hand.

“Heyes we gotta go,” Kid said, as he picked up his saddlebags and moved to the door.

Heyes and Elizabeth exchanged one last look and then Heyes let go of her hand, picked up his saddlebags and they were gone.

***

Kid led the way down the stairs at the side of the building and ran to the back of the General Store. They slowly made their way towards the livery stable. Just as they reached it, Kid grabbed Heyes by the front of his shirt and shoved him up against a wall.

“Hey! Wh…?” but Kid had his hand over his partner’s mouth shutting him up.

“Deputy,” Kid whispered. Heyes nodded his understanding and Kid removed his hand. They watched and waited as the deputy arranged for the lawmen’s horses to be stabled and then headed back towards the saloon. The partners strolled casually into the livery stables.

“Hi there,” Heyes said cheerfully to the owner. “We need our horses.”

“Oh sure,” the owner said. “Jimmy!”

A young boy of about thirteen years of age appeared from a back room. He looked towards Mr. Sharp, the livery owner, waiting for his instructions.

“Get these gentlemen’s horses from the corral and then you can see to the deputy’s animals,” Sharp said and Heyes described their horses for the boy. Jimmy returned a few moments later leading their mounts and Kid set about saddling them, as Heyes paid the man. Both men cast a glance at the lawman’s animals as they did so.

***

They rode out of town and remembering a ridge they had seen on their way to the Fuller’s place, Heyes led them towards it; urging their horses up the steep incline. An overhang of rock made for good shelter and the clear ground in front of it gave an uninterrupted view of the land for miles around. They should see someone coming long before they were spotted themselves.

“What d’you think Morgan’s doing in town?” Kid asked, as he stood beside his partner, both men watching for any sign of a trailing posse.

“I don’t know,” Heyes replied. “Could be anything. Couldn’t be ‘cos of us.”

“I hope you’re right Heyes,” Kid stated, his eyes showing the fear bad memories conjured up.

They had first encountered Sheriff Ray Morgan after a bank job in Carbon City. They had split up from Wheat and the boys, riding off with Kyle and a man, named Hills, who was new to the Devil’s Hole Gang. A horse fell, the new guy ended up riding with Kyle, and then shots rang out, one hitting Heyes in the arm. Before they knew it, they were surrounded and Morgan had them all trussed up like turkeys at Thanksgiving. That was when Morgan’s true character had been revealed. He was a vicious man. Seeing Heyes was in pain and trying to hide it, Morgan hit him hard on his injured arm. Kid had lunged at him and received a whack on the head with the sheriff’s gun in return. Later he tormented Hills, offering him the chance to escape if he would tell him where the others were. Eventually, Hills fell for it despite their warnings and when he began to run, Morgan shot him in the back. A beating, many bruises and some tough riding later, they somehow got free, but it was obvious to them all, Sheriff Morgan had not intended to turn them in alive.

“I heard you tell Elizabeth we’d be back.” Kid stated, watching his partner’s face.

“Sure Kid, we can head back maybe tomorrow,” Heyes told him. “We should give them twenty four hours at least.”

Kid considered this.

“D’you think Elizabeth will be all right?” Kid asked and Heyes noted the genuine concern in his voice. She was an injured woman. Kid could not easily run out on her now, even if it was Elizabeth Darkly.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Heyes assured him. “Mildred will look after her.”

Kid saw the look in his partner’s eyes and knew he was worried.

“We’d be taking an awful risk Heyes, going back,” Kid stated.

“I know, but I need to know she’s alright.”

“But you just said it yourself, the doctor’s wife will take care of her,” Kid reminded him, beginning to sound worried. “It’s crazy to even think about returning. You know what Morgan’s like.”

Heyes turned to face his friend.

“Yeah I do, but I’m not running out on her. We could have put Elizabeth in danger now.”

“Well she’s done that to us enough times!” Kid snapped.

“So that’s it?” Heyes asked, angrily. “You want us to leave her there? Let Morgan arrest her for helping us? Just ride out? I won’t leave her to suffer at his hands,” Heyes realised he had been slowly raising his voice.

“He’s not gonna hurt her!” Kid yelled.

“You don’t know that!” Heyes snapped back.

“No more than you know he will,” Kid countered.

“Don’t tell me, you don’t want to know she’s okay?” Heyes cried.

“I DO, BUT I WANT YOU ALIVE MORE!” Kid yelled.

Heyes looked up, wanting to say something, but Kid was already walking away. Heyes recognised the set of Kid’s shoulders. He needed to give him time to calm down. He also knew that Kid was right.

***

“We can’t go back together,” Heyes stated, as the sun slid into the horizon the following day. Kid didn’t say anything, letting his friend think. “I have to go in first.” He looked up at his partner. Kid met his eyes, saying nothing.

“You know I’m right don’t ya?” Heyes said and still Kid remained silent. “I mean if one of us gets caught you’ve got a better chance of shooting me outta there than I have for you.” Still Kid listened, knowing Heyes was trying to persuade him to agree.

“You know I’m right don’t ya?” Heyes stated again.

“Yeah, Heyes you’re right. Except that you’re not.”

Heyes was taken aback.

“You shouldn’t be going back at all,” Kid said.

“Don’t start this again!” Heyes told him. He thought they had argued it out the previous evening. Kid just glared at him. “I’m going back and I’m gonna to be careful.”

“Well you’d better be because I won’t be there to back you up.”

“Alright, so remember. If I’m not back by morning…”

“…you’d better hope Morgan don’t catch me too,” Kid finished and Heyes did not reply, just studied the ground.

“She clouds your brain,” Kid stated.

Heyes was about to argue with his friend, but he realised Kid was right.

“Go on, go see how she is. I’ll have dinner.” He jerked his head towards the fire, where a pan sat ready for use. “If you’re in jail at least I’ll have had something to eat first.”

“Well I’m glad you’ve got your priorities sorted out Kid!” Heyes said lightly, although he knew how worried Kid was. He climbed into the saddle.

Two blue eyes met Heyes’ brown ones. Heyes held out his hand and Kid shook it.

“Don’t get shot,” Kid told his friend.

“I’ll try not to,” Heyes replied. “You try to do the same.”

“I’ll try,” Kid promised. “And don’t get arrested.”

They exchanged a nod and Kid watched his friend ride back to town. When Heyes had disappeared from view, he turned back to the fire. He wasn’t hungry anymore.

***

Heyes rode cautiously back to town, climbing from his horse someway out, then leading the animal behind the houses and stores until he reached the livery. He watched and waited. The stables were locked. Heyes slipped the lock pick from his boot, undid the lock and gently eased open one door, before disappearing inside. He moved slowly between the stalls so as not to frighten the animals. Heyes didn’t see any horses he recognised, as belonging to the lawmen.

Leading his horse, Heyes crept behind the buildings on his way back to the doctors. His eyes scanned the street every time he crossed an alleyway. Lights shone in a few upstairs windows, but most of the stores were in darkness. Music drifted from the saloon and a few people were still about, some on the boardwalk. Heyes tied his horse at the back of the General Store and made his way to the staircase leading up to the doctor’s home. He saw no sign of Sheriff Ray Morgan or his deputies.

Unfortunately, for Hannibal Heyes, at the very moment he put his foot on the bottom step of the staircase leading up to the doctor’s quarters, Ray Morgan stepped out of the barber’s shop. He rubbed a hand over his now smooth chin and adjusted his hat on his neatly trimmed hair. Behind him, the barber was pleased the unpleasant man had finally left and he could shut up for the night and head home to his family.

The sheriff’s eyes drifted across the street to a young man, with a tied down gun, in a dark hat, climbing the stairs at the side of the General Store. There was enough light for him to see the man’s face. Sheriff Morgan froze. He watched the man reach the top of the stairs and knock on the door. The man cast a glance at the street, but Sheriff Morgan was already hidden from view, leaning as he was, against the glass window of the General Store.

There was no time to call a deputy to back him up. The question running through Morgan’s mind was, why was Hannibal Heyes going to the doctor? Maybe Kid Curry was hurt? Or one of the Devil’s Hole Gang? He hadn’t heard of any robberies in the district, but that didn’t mean the Gang were not nearby. Morgan drew his gun and checked it was fully loaded. He put his head cautiously around the end of the building and seeing that the staircase was clear, he began to climb.

***

Removing his hat, Heyes entered the doctor’s home and followed Mildred into the room Elizabeth occupied. He was pleasantly surprised to see her sitting up in bed, wearing a pretty lacy nightgown, a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her cheeks were a healthier colour.

“Well don’t you look better?” he said giving her a dimpled smile, as he walked towards her.

“I knew you’d be back,” she said, smiling. “Is it safe for you to be here?”

“Sure,” he told her, although he was less convinced than he sounded. He sat on the bed beside her.

“Where’s your gun twirling friend?” she asked.

Heyes smiled. Would she ever stop teasing Kid?

“Well we didn’t think it was safe enough for both of us to come,” he told her. “How you feeling?”

“Sore but healing. Thank you for looking after me.”

“My pleasure,” Heyes said, covering her hand with his.

Then they heard a knocking on the main door.

***

When Mildred opened the door, she found a man she did not know, standing before her, the index finger of his left hand was pressed to his lips to silence her, a sheriff’s badge pinned to his chest caught the light and a Schofield gun wavered in his right hand.

“Good evenin’ ma’am,” Ray Morgan said, loud enough for anyone inside to hear. “Is the doctor home? My wife is about ready to have our baby.”

“Oh you’d better come in,” Mildred said, not sure what the sheriff wanted. She wondered if it had anything to do with Elizabeth, but why was the sheriff being so cautious? She hoped Elias would be able to sort it out. Mildred stood to one side and the sheriff entered her home.

“A dark-haired man just came in here,” the sheriff said in a whisper. “Where is he?” Mildred realised he must mean Joshua. She found herself torn about what to do. She liked Joshua and his friend Thaddeus and they had both shown great concern for Elizabeth. Looking after her so tenderly, as she recovered from the bullet wound. Surely, Joshua couldn’t be in trouble? Whatever could this sheriff want with them? Morgan could see the doubt on the woman’s face.

“Ma’am, I sure hope the doctor can come quick,” he said loudly and then added in a whisper, “The man you just let in is a wanted outlaw.” Mildred’s eyes opened wide with disbelief and fear. Unconsciously her eyes shot to the room at the front of the apartment. The sheriff did not miss this.

“It’ll be our third baby,” the sheriff continued, as he edged along the wall to the room. “My wife wants to name it Emily after her mama if it’s a girl but I was hoping…” he threw open the door and came face to face with Elizabeth Darkly. Playing a terrified woman, Elizabeth let out a scream, as Heyes appeared from behind the door and shoved the sheriff into the wall. The lawman’s gun went skittering across the floor.

At the same moment, Mildred entered the room and was knocked to the floor by the sheriff. Heyes was distracted by her cries and as he looked to see if she was alright, Ray Morgan lunged at the ex-outlaw, catching him with a punch to the jaw. Heyes went down hard, his gun flew from his hand and Morgan fell upon him, laying into him with his fists. Mildred screamed and at that moment, Elias burst into the room. He saw Elizabeth struggling to get out of bed, his wife on the floor and two men fighting.

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?” he demanded to know, his voice booming out in the small room.

The two men broke apart and he saw that it was Joshua and a man with a star pinned on his chest. At that moment, Elizabeth groaned, appeared about to faint, and began to fall from the bed. Heyes was swiftly at her side, catching her before she hit the floor.

“This man’s a wanted outlaw,” Morgan said and, reaching down, he picked up both guns. He aimed his at Heyes, who was helping Elizabeth back onto the pillow. Her face was contorted in pain.

“Elizabeth?” Heyes said, clearly more worried about her than the lawman’s gun. Having helped his wife to her feet, Elias was quickly at Heyes’ side, ushering him away from the injured woman.

“Get over there,” Morgan sneered, indicating with his gun, for Heyes to move against the far wall. When the dark-haired man had done so, Morgan approached him, their eyes meeting in mutual hatred. The sheriff reached up to scratch his head, appearing about to say something and then brought his gun down, catching Heyes on the head as he did so. He collapsed to the floor.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Elias demanded.

“I told ya he’s an outlaw and a lying thief,” Morgan explained.

“That’s no reason to treat him like that,” Mildred exclaimed, as she went to Heyes’ side.

Kneeling beside him, she helped him to his knees. The room was spinning, as Heyes gently touched his head, feeling a damp patch of blood, where the gun had caught him. He groaned, trying to focus.

“Are you alright?” Mildred asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Heyes assured her, clearly not fine, as he struggled to his feet. He glared at Morgan who simply raised the gun at him.

“You’ll have to leave,” Elias said to the sheriff, as he approached Heyes. “I need to examine this woman and I hope to goodness there’s no harm done to her. I expect you to treat this man decently,” he stated, as he examined the wound on Heyes’ head. The young man looked a little shaky, to his professional eye.

“Decently? An outlaw?” Morgan asked, incredulously. “He don’t deserve it.”

“He has done nothing to harm anyone here and I expect you to behave appropriately. I am on the town council and I will hear if you harm this man any more,” the doctor told him. “I need to treat this wound.”

“You can do it later over at the jail,” Morgan told him. “See to the woman first. It’s alright Doc. I’ll be going now and taking Hannibal Heyes with me.”

Elias and his wife stared at Heyes. The dark-haired man saw the doctor swiftly putting the pieces together, as he remembered Elizabeth’s mutterings.

“Hannibal Heyes?” Mildred asked looking straight at the man she knew as Joshua Smith. She put a hand to her throat, suddenly frightened of him and Heyes didn’t know how to feel. A little ashamed? Perhaps. Sorry that she was now afraid of him? Definitely. Heyes looked at her, wanting to allay her fears, but it was too late. There was nothing he could say. He raised his hands and looked at the sheriff.

“Get moving,” Morgan said angrily and he shoved the gun into Heyes’ ribs. With a backwards glance at Elizabeth to see that she was all right, Heyes walked from the room.

***

“Search him,” Morgan instructed the deputy. “Take his boots off too. Heyes has a lotta little tricks stored in them.” He shoved the dark-haired man into the cell.

Heyes sat down on the bunk and pulled off his boots. The deputy turned them upside down and a lock pick and knife fell out. Morgan gave Heyes a triumphant smile. Heyes got back to his feet, and the sheriff watched as the ex-outlaw leader succumbed to the indignity of the deputy’s search.

“Remember what I told you last time?” Morgan asked the dark-haired man. Heyes didn’t reply and Morgan slammed a fist into his ribs. Heyes doubled over in pain. “I told you dead or alive is what it says, but I’d prefer dead if you give me a reason.”

Heyes looked at the man out of the corner of his eyes, still saying nothing. Finally, the sheriff and deputy left the cell and the large metal door closed with a resounding CLANG. Heyes listened as the key turned in the lock, let out a long sigh and gently felt his head. The bleeding had stopped just as the throbbing headache started and in his head, he could hear Kid saying ‘I told you so’.

“I’m not letting you go this time Heyes,” Morgan said, as he walked into view and leaned against the bars. “I reckon Curry’s out there now. He’ll want to ride in and break you out, once he finds out you’re in jail. And I’ll be waiting for him.” Morgan patted his gun.

“I told you he’s not with me. He won’t know. He’s not gonna turn up.” Heyes looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. “We split up months ago.”

“Well we’ll see soon enough won’t we?” the sheriff said. “I’ll leave a deputy at the livery stable and another watching the doctor’s. Don’t see him slipping into town unspotted. Oh and that’s a nice lookin’ woman you found yourself. Might use her as bait for Curry too.”

Heyes said nothing but the sheriff saw his jaw stiffen and smiled. Heyes was worried and he liked that, he liked that a lot.

As the sheriff walked away, Heyes sat down on the bunk. When he did not return, he knew Kid would ride in and Morgan’s deputies were out watching for him, laying their trap. Would they at least try to bring him in alive? Or had Morgan given the order to fire first? Hannibal Heyes was the one sitting behind bars, but at that moment, he was more afraid for his partner than himself. He felt sick, but it wasn’t because of his head wound.

***

“How are you feeling?” Elias asked later that night.

“Much better thank you,” Elizabeth told him, truthfully. Her side ached, but she was surprised at how fast she seemed to be recovering. “I’m very grateful for all your help doctor.”

“You’re very welcome.” Elias pulled the chair closer and sat down beside her. “Elizabeth, you knew Joshua was Hannibal Heyes didn’t you?” He caught her off guard.

“Why, how could you think that? I would never associate with outlaws,” she said self-righteously.

“You were calling out Hannibal in your sleep,” he stated. “Not too many of them around here. Quite a coincidence I’d say.” He met her gaze and she knew it was pointless to continue her act.

“I knew who they really were,” she admitted. “But they’re not the men you’ve read about. Not like that sheriff described.”

“They rob banks and trains.”

“They used to.” She could see she would need to explain. “They’ve given that up. They have the chance of a pardon. The Governor of Wyoming has offered them an amnesty if they stay out of trouble.”

“They don’t seem to be doing too well at that,” the doctor observed.

“They’ve helped me many times and I’ve seen them help others. They’re not wanted in this State. They wouldn’t be in this mess if they hadn’t helped me. They shouldn’t go to prison for twenty years. Elias, I can’t let that happen.”

“Well there’s nothing that can be done now. Sheriff Morgan said he plans to take Heyes to Wyoming as soon as possible. They may even head out tomorrow.”

“They’ve met Morgan before. They don’t think he’ll hand them in alive. They’ve never hurt anyone. You can’t let him kill them, murder them. Elias you can’t.”

Elizabeth tried to get up and the doctor was quickly out of his chair to stop her.

“What do you think you’re doing? You’ll do that wound more harm than good,” he scolded.

“Well I can’t let them take him.” The irony of her words were not wasted on the woman who had once shot Hannibal Heyes, intending to hand him in for the reward.

“You care for him very much don’t you?” the doctor observed.

Elizabeth met his gaze, as she thought about his question.

“Yes, yes I think do. The more I get to know about him, the more I like him. The more I like both of them. They’re not bad men, doctor. They’ve just made a few wrong choices and I think we’ve all done that. I know I have.”

“Perhaps, but not quite as spectacular,” he smiled.

“And what about Thaddeus? I mean Kid?” she asked. “He’ll try to break Heyes out, once he knows.” Elizabeth sat back, holding her side. “I have to warn him. They know his reputation with a gun. I don’t think they’d risk taking him alive.”

“Elizabeth you can’t do anything. You’re in no fit state to go anywhere.”

“Then you do it for me,” she begged.

“I can’t help wanted men escape,” Elias told her.

“But they’re trying so hard to do the right thing,” she pleaded. “At least take a message to Heyes for me?”

“I can’t get involved with outlaws,” he told her.

“You don’t have to Doc,” a voice said behind him and they looked up to see Kid Curry standing in the open doorway.

“What are you doing here? They’ll see you,” Elizabeth said.

“Where’s Heyes?” Kid asked, as he entered the room and closed the door. They did not answer him. “Elizabeth?” his tone told them he didn’t have time for games.

“He’s in jail.”

“What happened?” he asked, glad he had decided to follow Heyes into town rather than wait for morning.

As Elizabeth told Kid about sheriff Morgan and Heyes’ capture, Elias watched the blond-haired young man. He saw just a flicker of anger and then a steely resolve set in.

“I have to get him out,” Kid stated.

“You could be killed,” the doctor said.

“Gonna happen sometime,” Kid told him and the realisation, that he believed that, shocked them both. That was the inevitability this young man lived with day after day. That there were people out there waiting to kill him and it could happen at any time.

“Kid, you can’t just walk in there and break him out,” Elizabeth told him. “They’ll be expecting you to do just that. The sheriff may be watching here. They could even be on their way here now.”

“So I’ll need a plan,” he told her and his blue eyes met hers. “I guess we have to think, what Heyes would do.”

Elizabeth nodded and the doctor looked from the injured woman to the young gunslinger and knew he had to help them somehow, he just didn’t know….

They heard a sudden movement behind them and Kid spun round, his gun swiftly in his hand.

“Wow!” said Dr. Grant, as he stood just outside the room, his hands raised, Kid Curry’s gun now pointed at his stomach.

“Sorry Doc,” Kid said, returning the gun to its holster.

“Wow…you really are Kid Curry…I always…wow, that was fast,” Grant entered the room, his eyes wide with amazement, clearly impressed.

“He does that well, doesn’t he,” Elizabeth said and it was the first time Kid had heard her praise him.

“I’d best be going,” Kid said.

“You can’t!” Elizabeth said. “Elias, Grant, please help him,” she pleaded and then doubled over in pain. All three men turned towards her, helpless to ease her agony.

“I may be able to help you Mr. Curry. If you’ll let me,” Grant said. “I’ve just returned from the jail, tending your friend’s head wound.”

“Head wound?” Kid was clearly concerned. He looked from Elizabeth to Elias, wondering what they had left out of their story.

“The sheriff hit him with his gun,” Elizabeth explained.

Kid’s eyes went to the young doctor.

“He’s alright?”

“He’s fine, honestly. Just as you were.” Grant moved closer, conspiratorially. “I can tell you how many men they have guarding him and they don’t seem too bright. I have an idea. I used to be a member of the Miller’s Lake Players. We were a theatrical group. We put on plays for the town a couple of times a year. Very good, if I say so myself.” He waited for their reaction.

“Doc I don’t see….” Kid began, but Grant raised a hand to stop him.

“Make up, Mr. Curry. I was in charge of scars and moustaches. Beards too and authentic looking wounds. I was very good at wounds.” Kid gave him a puzzled look. “I still have all my props and I could do something like that for you.”

His father looked at his son and then at the blond outlaw.

“He really was very good at it Mr. Curry,” Elias assured him.

“A wound?” Kid said, still a little confused.

“No, I thought a moustache, or maybe a beard,” Grant told him. “And a wig.”

Kid looked from the young doctor to his father.

“You’re talking about helping us break someone out of jail,” Kid reminded him.

“Yes, yes I suppose we are,” Elias said. “Please don’t tell my wife.”

“She already knows,” Mildred said behind him.

***

“Theodore Strodberger,” the man announced in a Southern accent, as he walked up to the sheriff’s desk. “Of the Carolina Strodbergers.”

Sheriff’s Morgan and Taylor stood up, studying the portly, grey-haired man, with a trimmed beard, bushy moustache, and wearing a grey suit, standing before them. Theodore Strodberger looked at them over the rim of his glasses, fixing two blue eyes on the lawmen.

“I’m a lawyer,” he told them. “I hear you have Hannibal Heyes himself in jail and I have come to offer him ma services,” he stated.

“How’d you hear that?” Morgan asked.

“News travels fast in this town sheriff,” Strodberger replied.

“Well he don’t need no fancy lawyer,” Morgan told him, studying the man.

“Why don’t we let Mr. Heyes decide that?” the lawyer suggested. “I believe he is entitled to one.”

Sitting with his back to the door, Heyes turned slightly at the mention of his name. A man he didn’t recognise stood talking to the sheriffs.

“My uncle Mac always said you should let a man speak for himself,” Strodberger continued. “Of course Aunty Clem had something to say about that too.”

Heyes eyes shot to the floor, as he tried desperately not to let anyone know he recognised those names.

“Alright, alright, you can talk to him,” Morgan relented. “But no guns.”

“I can assure you sir I wouldn’t know one end of a pistol from another. I’d probably shoot ma foot off if I ever tried to shoot one,” Strodberger told them, as the deputy patted him down. Satisfied Morgan led him towards the cell.

“Heyes get up,” Morgan commanded and Heyes made a show of getting slowly to his feet. “Got a man here wants to be your lawyer. A Mr. Stoffberger.”

“Strodberger,” the lawyer corrected. “Of the Carolina Strodbergers.”

“Hmph,” was Morgan’s reply. “You got five minutes,” he said and walked back to the desk, keeping an eye on them as he did so.

“Mr. Heyes, I’d like to offer you ma services as your lawyer,” the man began, as he walked further along the corridor outside the cell. Heyes followed him and his brown eyes met two familiar blue ones on the other side of the bars.

“That really you?” Heyes asked in a whisper.

“Yep,” Kid said, giving his partner a smile. “You all right? Your head?”

“Yeah I’m fine,” Heyes told him. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to wait until mornin’.”

“And you’re not supposed to get caught,” Kid countered, meeting his partner’s brown eyes.

“Well that’s real kind of you Mr. Strodberger,” Heyes said, loud enough for the lawmen to hear.

Morgan looked up at the cell, watching the two men.

“You’re taking an awful risk,” he told his friend in a whisper.

“So were you,” Kid stated.

“You’re looking a little chunky,” Heyes observed, as he looked at the padding around Kid’s waist. “I thought you were putting on weight.”

Kid shot him a glare over the rim of his glasses.

“Where’d you get all this?” the dark-haired man asked.

“I’ll tell you later.”

“They’re taking me outta here tomorrow,” Heyes told him.

“Then I’ll hafta getcha out later tonight,” Kid assured him.

“It’s too risky,” Heyes cautioned.

“Let me be the judge of that,” Kid told him, firmly.

“Well don’t do anything stupid. I don’t want you getting’ hurt.”

Kid smiled gratefully.

“I’ll do my best not to,” Kid assured him and then saw Morgan heading towards them. “Sheriff,” he whispered.

“I’m real grateful to you,” Heyes said loudly.

“Alright, times up,” Morgan told them.

“I shall return tomorrow, when I’ve had time to acquaint myself with the facts in this case,” lawyer Strodberger told them both. He touched the brim of his hat and they watched him leave.

***

Lawyer Strodberger walked to the saloon. Kid didn’t want to risk returning to the doctor’s in case anyone was watching him and as he didn’t have a room at the hotel he didn’t know where else to go.

He nursed a whisky as he watched the clock tick the minutes away. Hiding in plain sight was making him extremely nervous and the moustache was beginning to itch. Kid was worried in case anyone recognised him and he also thought he might be allergic to the glue Grant had used. After a while, he wandered outside, noting a deputy, leaning against the wall of a store opposite. Otherwise, the street was empty. Respectable folks were at home by now, tucked up in their beds.

Kid took out a watch from his pocket. The padding Grant had stuffed around his waist was hot and uncomfortable. For a minute Kid hoped Heyes appreciated how much he was suffering to help rescue his friend.

Kid or rather, Theodore Strodberger, returned to the sheriff’s office. There was a deputy standing outside, cradling a rifle in his arms, and another sitting inside at the desk. Kid knew Sheriff Morgan was making the rounds and he didn’t have long. He tipped his hat to the deputy outside, submitting to a search for weapons before he entered the jail.

Heyes was sitting on the bunk. He watched his friend from behind the bars.

“Ah deputy, I’m Theodore Strodberger, Mr. Heyes’ lawyer,” Kid said, in his finest Southern accent, as he approached the desk.

“I know who you are. I was here earlier,” the deputy told him. “Sheriff Morgan warned me you might be back. What do you want this time?” The deputy was none too polite.

“I wish to speak to my client in private,” Kid informed him.

“No guns,” the deputy said, as he pushed back his chair.

“Well that’s a pity,” Kid said in his own voice. “Because I’m kind of attached to this one,” he said and the deputy looked up, at the sound of a click, to see Kid’s Colt pointed at him. Kid Curry smiled at the man, who hadn’t seen him draw the gun from inside the padding around his waist.

“Get the key and unlock the cell door,” Kid instructed, glad to speak normally again. The deputy stared at the gun clearly terrified. “Now,” Kid said through gritted teeth and the man came to his senses.

The deputy hurried to the cell, the keys jangled nervously in his hands. Heyes got up and met them at the door. When the deputy pushed it open, they moved quickly. Kid shoved the deputy into the cell, gagged him with his own bandana, and then locked it. Heyes collected his gun belt from the sheriff’s desk, then went to the back door and opened it a crack. He peered out.

“I can’t see anyone,” he told his partner.

Kid moved to his side, looked out and then stepped into the alley behind the jail. He spotted their two horses tied to a hitching rail further down the alley, just where the doctors had agreed to leave them.

“C’mon,” he said beckoning to Heyes and they ran along the alley. They pulled themselves into the saddle, although, with all his extra padding, Kid struggled to do so. He needed to lose the weight fast.

“What about Elizabeth?” Heyes asked. “She could get in trouble if they think she knows us.”

“She’ll be fine Heyes; I’ll tell you all about it when we’re outta here.”

Heyes nodded trusting his partner. They eased their horses away from the buildings and out of Miller’s Lake.

***

Sheriff Ray Morgan stopped dead in his tracks when he entered the jail with Sheriff Taylor and saw his gagged deputy staring plaintively out at him from inside the cell.

“What the hell?” he began as he stormed passed the cell and out the back door. His eyes scanned the alley but there was no one to be seen. “How long ago?” he demanded to know when he returned inside and found Taylor untying the deputy.

“About ten, maybe fifteen minutes,” the man said, nervously. “It was the lawyer.”

“Damn!” Morgan said and then a thought flashed into his head. “You go saddle up, ride out see if you can find any tracks to follow,” he instructed Taylor, who made no attempt to remind the man it was his town and his jurisdiction. “I’m gonna ask that woman some questions.”

They watched him head towards the doctor’s home.

***

“I told you,” Elizabeth said for the third time since being woken by the sheriff. “I hired them in Grey Rock to help me find out who killed my husband. The dark-haired one said he reckoned he could find out for me. He kept boasting how he was a genius,” Elizabeth told Morgan. The sheriff looked none too convinced.

The doctors and Mildred stood at the door wrapped in their dressing gowns. Each feigned displeasure at having been roused from their beds by the sheriff.

“What about Curry? D’you reckon the other fella was him? Blond. Curly hair,” the sheriff told her.

“He was an ugly looking man,” Elizabeth said.

“Oh? I heard Curry was quite something with the ladies,” Morgan said and saw the disapproving look he got from Mildred and the doctor.

“Oh no, sheriff,” Elizabeth assured him. “You saw how handsome Hannibal Heyes is?” she waited and the sheriff realised he was expected to agree with her. He reluctantly nodded. “Well I can assure you that the man with him was nowhere near as good looking. Scruffy, needed a good bath, and his eyes would fix on you so.” She shuddered for effect.

“Not a good looking blond fella then?” Morgan asked, already beginning to doubt that it had been Kid Curry riding with Heyes this time.

“The man I hired wouldn’t have attracted flies,” she said and shot a look at Mildred who smiled.

“So why did Heyes come back here? He trying to take you with him?”

“Oh no. He burst in here, demanding I pay him the money I owed him. He didn’t care that I was hurt. He was a brute. I’m so glad you arrived when you did.”

The sheriff stood up and walked towards the door.

“Thank you ma’am,” he said and then looked at Elias and his wife. “You heard the lady. You still feel I shoulda treated him decent?”

***

Some time later, when they felt it was safe, Kid and Heyes pulled their horses to a halt, so that Kid could remove the suit and padding. He pulled off the moustache and beard and washed the glue off in a shallow stream. Kid was happier when he was finally dressed in his own clothes and they were soon back in the saddle. They rode on, putting as much distance between themselves and Miller’s Lake, as they could. Kid had told Heyes what Elizabeth would say to the sheriff, if he asked any questions, and this time Heyes agreed to stay away. They would make enquires later to find out if Elizabeth Darkly was all right.

They reached a small town many miles north. Both men were tired and thirsty. The town didn’t have a sheriff’s office nor a jail but, thankfully, it did have a saloon.

They climbed wearily from the saddle. Kid reached into his vest pocket to check how much money he had. His expression changed to one of curiosity as he pulled out a folded piece of paper.

Beside him, Heyes tied his horse to the hitching rail and watched as Kid looked at the word written on one side of what he’d found.

“Joshua,” he read aloud. “It’s for you,” he said, as he handed the folded paper to his partner.

Heyes looked at the writing and then opened the note. His eyes scanned the neat handwriting.

“It’s from Elizabeth,” he finally explained, a little surprised.

“What’s it say?” Kid asked. “Or is it private?”

“No, it’s okay…I can read it to ya,” Heyes told him. He cleared his throat and read. “Thank you for helping me find Nathaniel’s killer and for taking care of…” Heyes coughed again, a little embarrassed. “…all my needs…however varied.”

He looked up to see his friend smiling at him. Heyes felt warmth on his cheeks and looked back at the paper.

“I shall go to a friend’s in Denver to recuperate. I will miss you. E.”

“That all?” Kid asked.

“Actually no,” Heyes said cryptically. “There’s a bit here for you.”

Kid looked concerned.

“What bit?” he asked.

“Tell that other fella…‘We did’,” Heyes read.

Kid looked at his friend confused.

“We did?” he asked.

“That’s what it says,” Heyes told him.

“We did what?”

“It doesn’t say.” Heyes looked at his friend, watching him think. When Kid looked at him, Heyes raised his eyebrows.

“What?” Kid asked. “What did we do?”

A sudden terrible thought came to him.

“No.”

Heyes said nothing.

“Oh no.”

Still Heyes remained silent.

“Tell me that’s not what she means,” Kid pleaded.

Again, Heyes said nothing.

“Heyes? You said we didn’t,” Kid reminded him and two desperate blue eyes looked at the dark-haired man.

“She said you didn’t,” Heyes reminded him.

“We didn’t,” Kid said, adamantly. “I would know if we did.” The doubt was evident in his voice. “Wouldn’t I? Heyes?”

“Well you were drugged,” Heyes stated.

“Oh no,” Kid said. “Not that. Tell me she doesn’t mean that.”

Heyes put a hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink. You look like you could use one.”

The End

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