Saving Mrs. Darkly
(The Elizabeth Darkly series #8)
By Maz McCoy
A sound woke Sheriff Lom Trevors. He groaned and turned over, pulling the blankets up to his chin, hoping to ignore it. There was a different sound and he opened his eyes. It was still dark although moonlight, through the window, illuminated his room. He heard a noise outside and, reluctantly, threw back the covers. The floor was cold beneath his feet. Getting up, he walked to the window. Two men on horseback sat in front of his house talking in whispers. Their shoulders were slumped and, by the way they eased themselves from their saddles, he could tell they were tired and saddle sore. The moonlight caught something metal on the band of one man’s hat. The other man stretched his shoulders as he stood up straight, moonlight illuminated his tied down gun. Lom smiled and, moving away from the window, unhooked his robe from the back of the door and began to pull it on.
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stood on the porch. They waited as a lamp was lit inside the house and listened to the approaching footsteps. The front door opened.
“Howdy Lom,” they said in unison, as the sheriff finished tying the cord of his robe.
“Come in boys.” Lom stood to one side to allow them to enter the house. “Go on through to the kitchen and I’ll get some coffee on.”
“Anything to cut the dust would be good Lom,” Kid told him and Lom took a moment to study his friends. Their clothes and faces were covered in dust. They looked tired and both sported a couple of day’s growth of stubble on their faces. They had clearly ridden hard to get there. He followed them into the kitchen. Neither man sat, preferring the chance to stand after so many hours in the saddle. Their eyes looked heavy. Kid put his hand over his mouth as he yawned.
“That a new robe Lom?” Heyes asked, casually.
“Yeah, the last one ended up smelling of perfume for some reason.” They exchanged a knowing smile.
“So what’s going on?” Heyes asked.
“Oh no,” Kid Curry groaned, as he read the contents of the telegram. He sat down on the bench outside the telegraph office and read it again, just to be sure. “Get here now. ED in trouble. Lom.” Well there didn’t seem to be any confusion about that.
Kid looked up and watched a dark-haired young man in a brown corduroy jacket, tan pants and a black hat, stroll across the street towards him. Heyes gave his partner a smile. Kid did not return it, knowing he was about to wipe the smile off his friend’s face.
“Did you get it?” Heyes asked, stepping onto the boardwalk.
“So what’s he say?”
“You’re not gonna like it.”
Heyes looked concerned.
“What’s the matter? Is it the Governor? About the amnesty?”
“Nope.” Kid held out the piece of paper.
Heyes took it from him and read it. He looked up at his partner.
“We hafta go.”
“I know, I know,” Kid stated, as he got to his feet. Heyes was already heading towards the hotel. “I’m gonna get shot again I just know it,” Kid muttered, as he followed his friend.
They had ridden hard for three days, grabbing only what sleep they needed and resting more for the sake of their horses than for themselves. Heyes rode grim faced, anxious to find out what had happened to a woman he had grown to care about. Kid also rode grim faced, not liking to see his friend worried and wondering which of them was going to get hurt this time.
Now, as they stood in the sheriff’s kitchen, they waited to hear the full story.
“It’s Kramer,” Lom told them. “The trial is due to start soon but the witnesses have begun disappearing or turning up dead.”
The partner’s listened intently as he continued.
“I didn’t think we’d need Elizabeth to testify against Kramer or Lynch but several of his men have obviously been paid off and gone missing. Two others were found dead, shot in the back. Stubbs has also been killed. They’ve charged Kramer with arranging his murder. Without Elizabeth’s testimony about what she saw and heard, Kramer will walk free.”
“When’s the trial?” Heyes asked.
“In two week’s time, in the town of Fury.”
“Why there?” Kid asked, as he stood leaning against the sink, his arms folded across his chest.
“It’s far enough away from here to provide an unbiased jury, or at least the judge hopes so.”
“Where’s Elizabeth now?” Heyes asked.
“She’s staying with a friend of mine, a rancher named Monahan, Jake Monahan. He’s a reliable man, he’ll protect her.”
“Where’s the ranch?” the dark-haired man asked.
“About four days from Fury by horse, shorter by train,” Lom told them, watching as they considered this. “There are only two men I trust to get Elizabeth to the trail safely and on time,” he added, watching their faces as he did so.
“And just who might they be Lom?” Heyes asked, unnecessarily.
The sheriff gave him an innocent smile.
“So you want us to escort her to the trial,” Heyes stated.
“Yes.” Lom looked uneasy.
“What is it?” Kid asked.
“The town will be full of US Marshals when you get there.”
Kid and Heyes exchanged a look.
“Well what fun would it be if it was easy?” Heyes asked him and Kid rolled his eyes.
“What do you think?” Kid asked, as they unsaddled their horses.
“I think I have to go,” Heyes told him as he undid the cinch.
“You have to go? What about me?”
“I’m not going to decide for you Kid. You heard Lom, they’ll be a lot of lawmen in town. We could get caught.”
“Yeah, we could. That’s ‘we’ Heyes not just you. I’m not gonna let you ride in there alone, you know that.”
Two grateful brown eyes looked up from the other side of his horse.
“Thanks,” the dark-haired man said and it was settled.
“I’ll meet you in Fury,” Lom told them, as Heyes and Kid sat on their horses outside the sheriff’s house the next morning. “There’s a cabin about two miles north of town, up in the hills, near some old mine workings. Take her there first.”
“One of us will find you at the hotel,” Heyes told him. “We won’t bring Elizabeth in until you tell us it’s safe.”
“All right,” Lom agreed. He met a pair of blue eyes and then two brown ones. “Take care of yourself boys.”
“We will Lom,” Kid assured him and he touched the brim of his hat.
Heyes nodded goodbye and the two men turned their horses away from the house.
Lom watched as they rode away, a sense of foreboding threatening to overwhelm him. He hoped they realised just how dangerous their task was. And if they did get Elizabeth to the trail safely there was the danger of them being recognised too. When the partners disappeared from view, Lom went back into his house.
“Alright what’s wrong?” Heyes asked as they rode side by side, walking their horses.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?” Kid adjusted his hat.
“Oh little things, like you muttering to yourself.”
“I’m just thinking out loud.”
“Well I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Think, or do it out loud?” Kid asked, confused.
“Both. We have an agreement about the thinking bit.”
Kid smiled but didn’t reply. He knew Heyes would ask him. It would gnaw at him until he knew. The dark-haired man looked at his friend but Kid was clearly not about to say anymore.
“Alright what are you thinking about?” Heyes asked, after a few moments. Kid smiled again.
“Just thinking about how we should do this. Do we ride to Fury or take the train?”
“Both?” Kid shot a look at his friend.
“I think we should ride to Sagebush. It’ll take a couple of days and then we can take the train from there to Fury.”
Kid considered this.
“And when we get to Fury?”
“One of goes into town, to see Lom.” They both knew that man would be taking a risk if there were Marshals in town.
“I’ll go,” Kid said.
“We’ll see,” Heyes stated.
“We can decide at the time, Kid.”
The blond man knew there was no point pushing it now.
Jake Monahan’s ranch was a large spread on the outskirts of Rapid Falls. The two ex-outlaws reached it just before ten o’clock at night on the second day out from Porterville. They rode cautiously up to the ranch house, lights glowed in the downstairs windows and from the bunkhouse. As they pulled their horses to a halt, they were greeted by the sound of more than one cocked rifle.
“Get your hands up boys, real slow,” a voice said, behind them. Heyes and Kid raised their hands. Men appeared from the side of the house, others from the bushes. Their guns were removed from their holsters. The door to the main house opened and a tall grey-haired man stepped out onto the porch. On a nod from the man, Heyes and Kid were dragged from their saddles and shoved towards the steps.
“Who are you?” the grey-haired man asked, as lights from the house illuminated the faces of the two saddle sore, and indignant, men.
“My name’s Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones,” Heyes began to explain. “Lom Trevors sent us.”
The man studied them more closely.
“How do you know Lom?”
“He’s an old friend,” Heyes told him. “He said you had something we should help deliver.” The tall man studied them thoughtfully.
“I’m Jake Monahan. You’d better come inside.”
“Our guns,” Kid said, not moving. Monahan turned back, meeting Kid’s gaze. He nodded at a man behind them. Kid’s gun was placed back in its holster. As Heyes felt his own gun returned, he patted his partner on the back and they followed Monahan into the house.
Monahan led them into the study. Two other men followed. When they were all inside the door was closed and Monahan’s men stood in front of it, clearly on guard duty.
“Can I offer you a drink?” the rancher asked, as he headed towards a decanter.
“Thank you,” Heyes replied and the grey-haired man began to pour. The partners’ eyes scanned the room. Tall bookcases overflowing with books covered two walls. Kid saw his partner’ eyes light up at the sight of them. A large mahogany desk stood in one corner; a ledger was open and papers piled high beside it. Four leather chairs stood either side of the stone fireplace.
“You said Lom’s an old friend?” Monahan asked, as he handed the men their drinks.
“Yes, we’ve worked with him on some jobs before,” Heyes informed him, vaguely.
“And what did he tell you?” Monahan asked, clearly still cautious.
“That you have a friend of ours staying here.” Heyes met the man’s gaze. Before Monahan could reply there was a commotion outside the room.
“Are they here?” a woman’s voice cried and Kid and Heyes exchanged a look. There was pounding on the door. “Jake! Jake let me in!”
Monahan, nodded to his men and they opened the door. Elizabeth Darkly, clad in a long blue robe, rushed into the room. Seeing the two men, a broad grin spread across her face.
“Han…” she began and then corrected herself. “Joshua!” she cried, and rushed at Heyes. Monahan stood back, surprised by her exuberance. Elizabeth threw her arms around Heyes, pulling him into an embrace. Kid stood to one side.
“They’re old friends,” Kid explained, as Elizabeth kissed Heyes, covering his mouth with hers. The kiss continued and the two men waited. “Really good friends.”
“I am so glad to see you,” Elizabeth said, when she finally pulled away from Heyes. She noticed Kid standing to one side. “Both of you.” She patted him affectionately on the chest and he smiled, pleasantly at her.
“Elizabeth?” Jake hoped she would enlighten him as to her connection to these men.
“Jake these are my two good friends, Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones. Boys, I assume you’ve met Jake Monahan. He and his wife have been kind enough to let me stay here while I wait for the trail to begin in Fury.”
“We know,” Heyes told her. “Lom sent us.”
“You can’t be at the trial…” she paused when she saw them exchange a glance.
“What is it?” she asked.
Kid looked at Heyes, letting him decide what to tell her.
“We’re going with you,” the dark-haired man said.
“What? Are you crazy? The town will be full of US Marshals and…”
“…people anxious to hear about the trail, I know,” Heyes finished for her. And Elizabeth was quick enough to realise what he’d done. She turned to Monahan.
“Jake, do you mind if I talk to my friends alone for a few minutes? We have so much to catch up on.”
“Of course, Elizabeth.” Jake nodded and turned to the partners. “Gentlemen, we can finish our discussion in the morning. I assume you’ll stay here the night?”
Kid and Heyes nodded and thanked him.
“Elizabeth don’t keep them too long. They look as if they’ve had a long ride and I doubt there’s much that can’t keep until the morning. I’ll tell Juliet we have guests.” He headed for the door, taking his two men with him.
“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth asked when they were finally alone.
“We came to see you,” Heyes told her. “To escort you to the trial.”
“But you can’t risk going to Fury, as I said, the town will be full of Marshals and lawmen from all over the State.”
“We know that, but we’re willing to risk it,” Kid said, leaning against the door.
“Why?” she looked from one man to the next. “Hannibal?” He didn’t reply. “Hannibal?”
“Do you know why they need you to testify?”
“Yes, I’m the only one left, or nearly,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Which is why we’re here,” Kid told her. “To see you get there safely.”
Realisation hit her.
“You’re here to protect me?” she asked, incredulously.
“Yes,” Heyes told her and she laughed.
“Yes, us two,” Heyes said, firmly.
“And who’s gonna protect you?” she asked as she headed to the door. “I don’t need protection, especially not from you two. Kid, don’t worry, you don’t have to stay. You’ll be safe this time.” She gave them both a smile. “You two!” she laughed once more as she left the room.
Kid looked at his partner, who was uncharacteristically speechless.
“What did she mean, Heyes?” Kid asked as he lay back on the bed. “Us two?”
Across the large, spacious room, his partner sat on the edge of his own bed and began pulling off his boots. He had said very little since Monahan’s wife, Juliet had shown them to the guest room. A room far more elegantly decorated than any they were used to.
“No bullet holes in the ceiling, here,” Kid had commented, when they closed the door.
Heyes sat on the edge of his bed. He was annoyed by Elizabeth’s reaction, to their offer of help.
“I guess Elizabeth doesn’t think we’re up to it.” He tossed his boot to one side.
“She doesn’t think we can protect her?”
“Seems so.” Heyes tugged off the other boot. “I mean, look at our track record. She’s been shot when she was with us and her ‘baby’ was stolen when you were guarding her.” He pulled his shirt over his head, as Kid considered what he’d said.
“It was only money and I got shot with an arrow trying to save it,” Kid reminded him. “Well she ain’t dead.” Heyes looked up at his partner. He stood up and began to unbutton his pants, then stopped when a thought came to him.
“You know you’re right, she ain’t…isn’t. Elizabeth’s got no right to be ungrateful. She needs protecting whether she likes it or not and we’re gonna do it!” Heyes stood up and stepped out of his pants.
“So we’re gonna get shot after all,” Kid said before turning down a lamp.
“I do not need protection!” Elizabeth yelled at Heyes. They were in the Monahan’s barn. Elizabeth sat down heavily on a bale of hay.
“Yes, you do!” Heyes told her firmly. He had followed her in there after a tense breakfast, with their hosts. Everyone had been terribly polite making Heyes want to strangle Elizabeth even more. Kid had simply continued to eat his breakfast, enjoying the delicious food and watching Heyes and Elizabeth shoot glares at each other. For once, he was glad not to be on the receiving end of her wrath.
“Lom told us Kramer’s men have been killed. Shot in the back. D’you want that to happen to you?” Heyes asked, rhetorically.
“I can take care of myself!” she told him and then gave him a sly smile. “As much as I’d love you to keep an eye on my body.”
“I’m flattered. But you really are in danger.”
“And I really can take care of myself.” She stood up, hands planted firmly on her hips. “You’ve seen that for yourself. I can handle a gun, I’m not some weak little woman, needing to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected by a man! You don’t have to ride in and save the day this time!”
“Well you seemed to want protection when you carried Stubbs money.”
“That was different.”
“No it wasn’t. It’s the same thing! And you seemed happy enough to let Kid help you then! Someone is after you Elizabeth and this time they won’t leave you beside the stage, they’ll kill you!” Heyes’ angry eyes fixed on her.
“I don’t want you here.” She turned to walk off. Heyes grabbed her arm, spinning her round.
“Will you wait!” he growled as she tried to pull away. His gripped tightened.
Elizabeth glared at him, but he didn’t let go.
“Trying to prove how powerful you are?” she asked, her eyes fixed on his.
“No! I just want you to realise you’re in danger.” He felt her relax in his grasp. “Elizabeth, I don’t want you to get hurt. I just… Oh damn it!” He pulled her to him, planting a kiss firmly on her lips. She resisted at first but then he felt her respond, her body moving closer to his, as his arms enfolded her. She always felt good in his arms. When they finally broke apart, she smiled at him. Heyes smiled back, watching as she licked her lips.
“I’ve missed you,” she said, softly.
“But I don’t need you here and I don’t need protection!” she snapped angrily. “And if you think a quick kiss or a fumble in the hay is going to make me change my mind, you have not only way over estimated your attractiveness to women, you’re also wrong!” She turned and walked off.
Heyes took a long deep breath, looked heaven ward for inspiration and watched her head back towards the house.
“And I thought Kid was stubborn,” he muttered as he set off after her.
Kid sat in a chair on the front porch. He watched as Elizabeth strode purposefully towards the house, grim determination on her face.
“Don’t say a word!” she snapped at him as she marched up the stairs and into the house. Kid looked up to see Heyes walking towards him.
“Everything go all right?” Kid asked, as Heyes reached the front porch.
“No, it did not go all right!” Heyes snapped. “That woman is the most…”
“Yeah, I know.” Kid got to his feet.
“She says she doesn’t want me here.”
“She doesn’t need protecting.”
Heyes thumped the porch rail with his hand, and then shook it, having hurt his knuckles.
“But you want to protect her?” Kid asked.
“Of course I do, Kramer’s men are out to kill her.”
“Just checkin’.” Kid placed a hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “Let’s go find her.”
“Elizabeth, let’s go talk to her.” Heyes’ shoulders relaxed and he nodded.
When she heard a knock at her bedroom door, Elizabeth knew who it had to be and hesitated before opening it. She had been so pleased to see him again. She’d actually felt a flutter of excitement when she’d heard his voice in Jake’s study. It was foolish she knew it. Ridiculous. There was nothing between them. It was just a bit of fun. They had agreed that. And just who did he think he was, telling her she needed his protection? Waltzing in, expecting to save the day! Huh!
“Elizabeth?” Heyes called from outside the room and he knocked on the door once more. She sighed and opened the door.
“Oh, he’s brought reinforcements now!” Elizabeth mocked as Kid entered the room along with Heyes. “I’ll tell you what I told HIM!” She pointed in Heyes direction. “I do not need protecting!”
“I know that,” Kid stated matter-of-factly and Heyes and Elizabeth looked at him. “Heyes, I’ve spent enough time with Elizabeth to know she can take care of herself. And me for that matter.”
Elizabeth shot Heyes a smug look, as she placed her hands on her hips.
“I also know that Heyes cares about you a great deal,” Kid told Elizabeth. “And you won’t stop him worrying about you no matter how stubborn you get. I know that for a fact too.”
It was Heyes’ turn to shoot a look at Elizabeth. He folded his arms across his chest.
“So, you two’d better work this out because Kramer’s men are coming. They may even be on their way here, right now and I’ll have to fend them off by myself if you two are still up here arguing.”
Kid headed for the door.
“And if I get shot again, you’re both gonna pay!” He glared at them. “So work it out!” He slammed the door shut when he left.
Heyes and Elizabeth exchanged a glance.
“He’s gorgeous when he’s angry; those big blue eyes just light up. Have you noticed that?” Elizabeth asked with a smile, still staring at the door.
“Can’t say I have,” Heyes admitted.
“I know you’re only trying to help…” she relented.
“And I know you can take care of yourself,” Heyes admitted. “Why won’t you let me help you?” He stepped towards her and Elizabeth let out a sigh.
“I hate feeling vulnerable.”
“I like a vulnerable woman.” He smiled seductively.
“This is not the time.”
“Why not? If you won’t let me go with you, when will I see you again?”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t go with me.”
“You said you didn’t want me here.” Heyes reached forward, taking her hands in his. “Is that still true?”
“You don’t want me here?”
“No, I do. It is nice to see you again. I did miss you.”
Heyes pulled her closer.
“So do I get to protect your body?”
“If you keep looking at me like that Hannibal Heyes I’ll let you do much more.” Heyes kissed her and she didn’t push him away.
Outside the room, Kid took his ear away from the door. He gave a satisfied nod and a smile and then headed down the stairs, following the smell of coffee and cooking.
A gloved hand placed over her mouth startled Elizabeth awake, she tried to scream but the hand stifled her cries. Elizabeth lashed out in the darkness, at the shadowy figure of a man leaning over her. Another hand pinned her right arm back on the pillow. She continued to struggle.
“Elizabeth! It’s me!” Heyes hissed. She took a moment to focus on her attacker, her eyes finally adjusting to the darkness. It was Heyes. He removed his hand from her mouth.
“What the heck are…” she began loudly and he covered her mouth with his hand once more.
“Shhh.” She glared at him. He removed his hand.
“What are you doing?” she asked in a whisper and then a sudden thought came to her. “You only had to ask you know. Being seduced by a mysterious intruder could be exciting.” She smiled, wickedly.
“Not now!” he said. “C’mon get dressed we’re leaving. And wear something for riding.”
“What?” She sat up in bed.
“He said we’re leaving,” Kid told her, from the other side of her bed.
“What are you doing here?” Elizabeth pulled the sheets up to cover herself.
“I’m coming with you,” Kid said, then looked at her holding the sheets. “Nothing I ain’t seen before Sweetheart, remember?” He flashed a smile at her and she actually felt herself blush. Damn it these two were playing havoc with her emotions. This wasn’t like her and she didn’t like it one bit.
“Turn around!” she commanded. Heyes looked at Kid and gestured for him to do just that. “Both of you!” she ordered.
“Elizabeth, it’s dark and we’re not likely to see anything…well certainly not anything I haven’t …well you know what I mean…oh heck will you just get on with it!” Heyes turned his back. Elizabeth threw back the sheets, got up and quickly dressed in a blouse and a split riding skirt. She threw a few essentials into a bag as Heyes explained his plan.
“I want to slip away tonight before anyone notices; we’re not catching the train.”
“But you told Jake…”
“I know,” he said. “We can’t afford to trust anyone right now and what Jake doesn’t know, he can’t be forced to tell.”
Elizabeth let his words sink in.
“All right, I’m ready,” she told them.
Kid had saddled their horses and left them around the back of the house. They crept quietly from the building and made their way to where the animals were waiting. They mounted up and rode silently away, hoping no one had seen them leave. They walked their horses until they were far enough away and then, with Heyes in the lead and the moonlight to guide them, they spurred their horses on.
Unfortunately, the riders were unaware that Elizabeth had been followed from the moment her presence at the trial was deemed necessary. She had been watched as she travelled to Jake Monahan’s ranch and the ranch itself had been kept under constant surveillance ever since. The departure of three figures on horseback late at night did not go unnoticed, especially when the one in the middle appeared to be a woman.
A man watching from the hills above the Monahan ranch crept back from the ridge. He kept the three riders in his sights, as he beckoned to another man.
“What’s up?” Amos asked, as Maurice drew nearer.
“I think she’s leaving,” Maurice told him, scratching his beard as he untied his horse from a tree. “You go into town and get the others. I’ll follow ‘em. Just head for Fury. I’ll leave a maker for you to follow.” Amos grabbed the reins of his own horse and prepared to ride out.
After a couple of hours in the saddle, they stopped to rest the horses, taking the opportunity to have something to eat while they did so. Kid poured himself a cup of coffee as Elizabeth and Heyes faced each other across the small fire.
“Listen dimples!” Elizabeth exclaimed and Kid turned quickly away, biting his tongue as he tried not to laugh.
“You talkin’ to me?” Heyes asked.
“Well if you’ve got something to say, come right out with it,” Heyes told her. “Don’t hold back on my account Sweetheart. Oh no wait, you haven’t been have you?”
“Heyes,” Kid warned, noting the change in his partner’s tone.
“No, Kid, let’s hear what the lady’s got to say. Heck she’s been giving us the benefit of her wisdom for the last hour or so!”
“I said, I don’t need you to protect me, so if it’s getting inconvenient for you, you could go.”
“I didn’t say it was inconvenient, just that it wasn’t easy. We need to get you into a town full of lawmen without being seen. We need to find a safe place for you and…”
“Well if it’s too difficult, you know you’re free to go.”
“Well that’s real generous of ya, but if you don’t mind I’ll stick around. You see when I promise to do something I keep my promises, unlike some people!” Heyes walked a few paces away.
“Meaning me?” She followed him.
“You said it Sweetheart!” He glared at her.
“And just when didn’t I keep my promise to you?” Was it Kid’s imagination or did Elizabeth sound hurt by Heyes’ remark?
“Oh d’you want me to list them?” Heyes eyes met hers. Kid watched as they glared at each other. Sheesh.
“All right that’s enough!” Kid stepped between them. “Now either you two kiss and make up or I’m riding out of here and leaving you to it, because I am not gonna put up with this for the next two days!” He looked from a stunned Heyes to a surprised Elizabeth. “Is that clear?”
“Is it?” he asked again, resting his hand on his gun.
“I’ll drop it if she will,” Heyes told him, petulantly. Kid looked at Elizabeth. She said nothing.
“It’s up to you,” he told her.
“He can stay,” she relented.
“Don’t do me any favours.”
“Heyes!” Kid warned. “All right. Can we all agree that we are going to see this through together?” He waited for their reply.
Heyes nodded. They looked at Elizabeth and she nodded.
“Good. Now let’s get going.” Kid turned and began to put out the fire.
They rode in silence for a while. The tension between Heyes and Elizabeth was almost as electric as the storm brewing on the distant horizon. Kid wasn’t sure why, but their silence irritated him even more.
After a while he heard his partner apologising to Mrs Darkly.
“I’m sorry,” Heyes said. “I know you don’t like feeling vulnerable.”
“I’m sorry too. I know you’re a man of your word. That’s something I admire about you. And I know you only want to keep me safe.”
“Got anything nice to say about me?” Kid called over his shoulder.
“No!” they chorused, exchanging a smile.
“That’s all the thanks I get for playing cupid!” the blond man muttered.
At dawn they rested their horses once more. It would take them another day to reach Sagebush, and the train for Fury. The two men kept their experienced eyes on the trail they had taken, watching for the sign of anyone following them. They saw no one. They rode without incident for the rest of the day. A truce had been called between Heyes and Elizabeth. The bickering had stopped and Kid was beginning to enjoy the ride. The sun shone from a clear blue sky and it was pleasantly warm on his back. Even the horses seemed to enjoy the easier terrain.
It was dark by the time they made camp beside a stream. Heyes and Kid settled into a well practiced routine. Kid tended to the horses while Heyes, with Elizabeth’s help, made them all something to eat. After a long ride and a warm meal inside them, they were all ready to curl up on their bedrolls. As Heyes pulled his blanket around him he heard Elizabeth shiver.
“Are you cold?” Heyes asked.
He turned on his side, facing her.
“Come here.” He raised his blanket, offering her a place at his side. Elizabeth scurried towards him, dragging her blanket with her. He put his arm around her, pulling her close as he covered them both. Elizabeth gave an appreciative sigh, her arm stretched across his waist. “Better?”
“Either that or you’re getting me all excited.” She slid her other hand beneath him and squeezed.
“What are you doing?” he asked, raising his butt out of reach.
“Having a little fun.”
“Move your hand.”
She did and squeezed again. Heyes sighed.
“Out from under me.”
“You know for a bank robber, you’re not a lot of fun sometimes.”
“We’re not alone,” he reminded her, his eyes shifting to the shape beneath a blanket on the far side of the fire.
“I can be real quiet,” Elizabeth whispered and Heyes met two seductive brown eyes. She put her finger on the top button of his shirt and undid it.
“I thought you were cold.”
“A little energetic exercise will soon warm us up.” She popped open another button and ran her fingers over the hollow of his neck. Heyes’ eyebrows rose, as he felt her warm breath on his face.
“Woman, are you insatiable?” he asked, with a smile.
“Not totally. After all I’m not a nun.”
“Well I wish you were!” Kid grumbled from across the campsite. “Then maybe some of us could get some sleep.” Elizabeth giggled.
“If he wasn’t faster on the draw, I’d ask you to shoot him.”
Heyes smiled and kissed her forehead.
“As much as I hate to admit it and as tempting as this situation is, he’s right. We need to rest. Go to sleep, please.” The dark-haired woman in his arms snuggled closer.
“So you’re tempted huh?” Her hands began to explore.
“Elizabeth please, no!” Heyes groaned.
Easing himself onto his hands and knees, Kid groaned. His back ached from a night on the hard ground.
“Good morning,” Elizabeth said, cheerfully, from across the campsite, as she folded her blanket.
“Says who?” he replied, gruffly.
“Somebody sure got out of the wrong side of the blanket this morning.”
Kid glared at her.
“Well if you two hadn’t been yakkin’ away half the night I’d have got some sleep.”
“We weren’t talking.”
He met her gaze.
“I was being polite.”
“You keep this up you’ll wear him out before we get to Fury.”
“We didn’t do anything like that!”
“Please, save me the details. Just the sight of you two under the same blanket is enough to give me nightmares.”
“Sounds to me like you’re jealous.” Kid looked at her, deciding not to comment. He got to his feet and stretched. Elizabeth smiled. “Don’t worry; I’ll share your blanket tonight. I remember not so long ago we snuggled up together. You seemed to enjoy it then.”
“You said you were cold.”
“That was just a ruse to get close to you.” She edged closer. Kid didn’t back away. “I remember the feel of your strong manly arms around me…” She stepped closer. “…the warmth of your body against mine…” Closer. “…your breath hot on my neck as you…” She leaned forward and whispered in his ear.
“I did not!” He took a step backwards. “Sheesh woman, did you tell him that?”
Elizabeth smiled innocently.
“Where is he anyway?” Kid asked, changing the subject.
“He’s gone to get some water for coffee.”
“Well at least I’m in time to save us from that peril.”
“You could teach him to make it better.”
“You’re kiddin’ right?” He could see that she wasn’t. “He thinks his coffee’s great; it’s just everybody else that has the problem. You want him to make better coffee…you try teaching him.”
At that moment Heyes reappeared from the river bank, the coffee pot in his hand.
“Mornin’,” he said cheerfully, giving Kid a big grin and exchanging a smile with Elizabeth. He looked from his partner to Elizabeth. “You two weren’t arguing were you?”
Saying nothing, Kid knelt beside the fire and began to add more wood.
“We don’t argue,” Elizabeth told him. “I just annoy him.” She ruffled Kid’s hair as she walked past. Heyes heard his partner let out a heavy sigh as he, metaphorically, his bit his tongue.
“Well I’m glad to hear that. I’m glad you kids are playing nicely.” He ruffled Kid’s hair as he put the coffee pot on the flames. Two intense blue eyes met brown ones. Kid was trying hard not to wipe the silly grin off his partner’s face.
Kid glanced over his shoulder, his eyes narrowed and he pulled his horse sharply to a halt. A moment later, Heyes was beside him, following the direction of Kid’s gaze. There were riders on the far ridge. Five men, heading their way.
“Can you make out who they are?” Heyes asked.
Elizabeth pulled her horse along side them.
“Friend or foe?” she asked.
“Our friends know where we’re going, so I’d wager foe,” Heyes stated.
“Jake could have sent someone to keep an eye on us,” she suggested.
“Yeah, he could,” Kid agreed, not taking his eyes from the men and not sounding at all convinced.
“So what do we do?” Elizabeth asked.
“We ride on, keep them in our sights and decide what to do later,” Kid told her, turning his horse away. Heyes nodded and followed his partner. Elizabeth watched the dust cloud.
An hour later the men were still following them and appeared to be closing the gap. Kid and Heyes sat on their horses, watching from the edge of a wood. It was a familiar situation; they didn’t need to speak, each knew what the other man was thinking. Elizabeth was a good rider, but in truth they would have ridden harder and faster without her; just as their pursuers were. They would have taken more risks too.
“What would you do if I wasn’t here?” Elizabeth asked, as if reading their thought. Her eyes still on the riders.
“Split up,” Kid stated. “Try to separate them or lose them.”
“So why don’t we?”
Kid looked at Heyes. The dark-haired man remained silent and then he sighed.
“Because we’re supposed to be protecting you,” he reminded her.
“But you want to lose them don’t you?” She looked from Heyes to Kid. “So let’s do it. You know what I told you. No special treatment. I can…”
“…Take care of yourself,” Heyes finished for her. “Yes, I know.” He looked at Elizabeth, his expression softening.
“Heads,” Kid said. Heyes met his gaze and then pulled a coin from his vest pocket.
“You’re going to toss a coin to decide if we split up or not?” she asked, with surprise.
“No, we’re tossing to decide who has to ride with you.” Kid gave her a sweet smile, receiving a glare in return. Heyes threw the coin into the air, caught it and slapped it onto the back of his left hand, covering it with his right. He took a peek.
“I ride with Elizabeth,” he announced, slipping the coin back into his pocket.
“I’ll ride out in full view; down in the valley,” Kid said. “I’ll make sure they see me and hopefully draw some of them off.”
“We’ll try and lose them in the trees,” Heyes told him. “Meet you on the other side of the ridge.”
“Ok.” Kid nodded, tightening his grip on the reins as he turned his horse.
“Be careful,” Heyes told him. Kid smiled and looked from his partner to Elizabeth.
Heyes watched Kid ride off, his expression thoughtful.
“You didn’t say if it was heads or tails,” Elizabeth pointed out.
“Does it matter?”
“I’d like to know if you won or lost?”
“I got to ride alone with you…I must have won.” He gave her a grin.
“For the man with the silver tongue, you’re a terrible liar sometimes.”
Elizabeth watched Kid disappear from view and then followed Heyes’ horse through the trees.
“I must remember to thank Kid for this,” she said. “I have you all to myself for once.”
“Just behave yourself,” Heyes warned, good-naturedly, as he ducked his head under a low branch.
“You’re not suggesting I’d take advantage of the situation, are you?” she asked innocently, ducking down as she reached the same tree.
“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” he called over his shoulder.
Kid rode hard, trying to create as much dust as he could; not trying to hide. Turning in the saddle he spotted a dust cloud on the horizon. Someone was following him. He just hoped the group didn’t split up, but if they were sensible they would do just that. They were after more than one rider alone.
A railway line ran through the bottom of the valley. Kid rode along side the track, following its path between rocky outcrops, millennia old, fringed by thorny scrub.
He cast another glance over his shoulder. He would head back to the ridge soon. Circle around and…his horse put a foot in a depression in the ground and it went down hard. Kid was thrown, landing heavily on his back in the dirt. His horse righted itself and, unhurt, ran off. The blond man lay unmoving on the ground.
Heyes stood on top of a large, boulder, watching the valley below for one man on a horse. Nothing moved. Elizabeth sat on a rock; her right boot lay on the ground as she tried to straighten her stocking.
They had been followed as they knew they would be. Three men had picked up their trail. Heyes and Elizabeth dismounted and led their horses into the dense undergrowth. Elizabeth pressed herself against Heyes’ back and reached her arms around his waist.
“I love the thrill of the chase, don’t you?” she whispered.
“Two desperate people, bodies pressed against each other for comfort and…” She moved a hand lower and Heyes batted it away.
“Stop it!” he warned.
“This is cosy,” she said, snuggling into his back. “It reminds me of the time Kid and I were…”
“You two were this close?”
“He didn’t tell you?”
“Well if I recall we were tied together real close.” She listened for a change in his breathing. There was none. “I could feel the warmth of his body through the thin fabric of my dress…” No response.
“I was a helpless woman, needing the strength of a man…” Still no response. “Got nothing to say about that?”
“Poor Kid,” Heyes commented.
“Poor Kid? Not poor Elizabeth? Tied up and helpless.”
“Elizabeth one thing you are not, is helpless. If you were tied to my partner I don’t imagine you made it easy for him.”
“Well maybe I did tease him…just a little.”
“Like I said, poor Kid.”
“You’re not concerned that we might have…well…you know…in the heat of the moment…?”
“You just said you were tied up,” he reminded her.
“We got free.”
“And we might have celebrated.”
“Like I said, poor Kid.” Heyes laughed and she dug him in the back with her elbows. “OW!”
He turned quickly, placing a hand over her mouth. She was about to protest when three riders came into view. They remained perfectly still, praying the horses would do the same and not respond to the presence of those passing by. Elizabeth’s eyes watched three shapes between the branches. Heyes’ sensitive ears listened. When he was satisfied they had not been spotted, he removed his hand from her mouth.
“You’re quite good at this,” she smiled. He didn’t move.
That had been sometime ago.
“Any sign?” she asked. Heyes didn’t reply. She knew he expected Kid to have been there by now. “Hannibal?”
“Any sign?” she asked again.
“Not yet,” he stated, as he came to sit beside her. He watched her struggling with her stocking. “Let me,” he said and then reaching down took hold of her ankle, raising her foot to his knee. She watched as his dexterous fingers adjusted the fine fabric of her stocking. Heyes allowed himself an appreciative look at the delicate ankle, smooth calf and the long leg that went all the way up to her….his eyes met hers and Elizabeth smiled. She handed him her boot and he pulled it on.
“I have another one that needs…attention,” she told him, seductively.
“I thought you might,” he said, happy to oblige. Putting down her foot, she raised the other leg. Heyes pulled off her boot and took hold of her ankle. She pointed her toes, and then ran her foot along his leg, moving it higher than necessary.
“I can think of something we could do to pass the time,” she said with a wicked grin.
“Do you ever think of anything else?”
“Not when I’m with you.” She noted the change in his expression.
“You’re worried about him aren’t you?”
Heyes shoulders stiffened. It told her all she needed to know.
“Kid’s resilient, he’ll be all right.” He met her gaze. “He survived being with me.”
Heyes smiled, appreciating Elizabeth’s attempts to raise his spirits.
“Good. I like seeing those dimples.”
“Just what do you two get up to when I’m not around?”
“Oh now that would be telling.”
“Are you jealous Hannibal?”
“Of you and Kid?”
“Do I have anything to be jealous of?”
“Well he does have those gorgeous blue eyes.”
“I thought you liked brown.”
“And that curly blond hair, you could just run your fingers through.”
“Have you?” Heyes asked, his eyebrows raised.
“Now that really would be telling.”
“Sounds like you prefer my partner to me.”
“I didn’t say that. I just appreciate some of his attributes.”
“Well make sure you keep your hands off his attributes,” Heyes warned, good naturedly.
“I think you scare the life out of Kid anyway.”
“Me? Scare the fastest gun in the west?”
“You’re too unpredictable for him.”
“Then I shall save myself for you.”
Heyes sighed, casting his eyes to the distance.
“He’ll be all right,” she assured him once more.
“You told me that at Lom’s too,” he remembered.
“And I was right wasn’t I?”
“Yes, yes you were,” he admitted.
“So listen to Elizabeth. She knows what she’s talking about.”
“I sure hope so.”
He placed her foot on the ground and standing up, returned to the boulder.
“Any news from the Governor lately?” she asked, changing the subject conversationally, as she put her boot back on.
“Not for a while.” His eyes scanned the valley.
“Still not able to make an honest woman of me then?” He turned and his eyes met hers, but he refrained from commenting. “Now don’t tell me you haven’t imagined what it would be like to have a lot of little Hannibals and Elizabeths running around.”
Again he decided it was safer not to reply.
“Of course if you won’t have me, maybe Kid will?” Heyes laughed. “Well at least that got a response!”
“I just told you, leave my partner alone. He’s suffered enough.” He cast a glance at the distant horizon. A sense of unease enveloped him. He should have been there by now.
“He’ll be here,” Elizabeth said. Heyes wished he was as sure.
Two men pulled their horses to a halt. The man they had been following lay sprawled on the ground a few feet ahead of them. The men drew their guns, approaching cautiously, in case it was a trap. They urged their horses closer. The smaller of the two, a man named Kimble, dismounted and walked towards the blond man, lying on his back in the dirt. A moment later the other man joined him and they peered down at the unconscious man. There was a bruise on his right temple but no other obvious signs of injury.
“What are we gonna do now Newt?” Kimble asked his taller companion.
Kimble held out his gun, the barrel pointed at Kid’s head.
“Do we hafta shoot ‘im?”
“It’s the easiest way of getting’ ‘im dead,” Newt explained. A thought came to him. “You scared to do it?”
“NO! It’s just…” Kimble reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded dime novel. He held it out so that Newt could see the cover. “Can we do this instead?”
Newt looked at the picture and smiled.
It was late afternoon and there was still no sign of Kid. They had seen their three pursuers ride down into the valley and met up with the other two. Heyes had watched as the five men rode on, obviously assuming the people they were after had done the same. So where the heck was Kid? With Elizabeth riding behind him, Heyes urged his horse back along the trail, hoping to find his partner waiting for them.
Deciding it might be safer to go on alone, Heyes persuaded Elizabeth to wait at the edge of the trees while he scouted the terrain.
“Wait for me here,” he told her. “And keep out of sight.”
She nodded, not arguing this time, realising how worried he was and watched him ride off. After a few minutes, Elizabeth was bored with waiting and decided to do a little exploring of her own. She pulled herself back into the saddle and rode towards the railway tracks.
The world came slowly into focus and the fastest gun in the west, complete with admirable attributes, groaned. He lay on his back, opened his eyes and squinted at the sun overhead. The bright light hurt the backs of his eyes. A searing pain went through his head and he screwed his eyes tight, waiting for it to subside. He reached a hand…except that he couldn’t. His right hand was tied to something. He pulled at the bindings around his wrist but it held securely above his head. He moved his left…again he couldn’t. Both wrists were bound tight. Kid tried to move but found his legs were bound at the ankles.
“What the…?” He struggled, suddenly aware of his predicament. “Oh you’ve gotta be kiddin’.” He lay spread eagled on the railway tracks, his hands and feet bound securely to the metal rails. Was this some sort of joke? Who had done this to him? His horse went down, he remembered that much, but nothing more.
A sudden feeling of panic overwhelmed him and he wondered how often the line was used. Was this the line Heyes had been looking up the timetables for? Heyes. Where was his partner now? How long had he been unconscious?
Kid struggled with the ropes tying him to the tracks. He felt the skin at his wrists grow sore but he continued to twist and pull, trying to free himself. He kicked his ankles, hoping to loosen the bindings, but to no avail. Kid paused, getting his breath back, and then he tried again.
This was ridiculous. What sort of person tied you to the railway tracks? It was like something from a dime novel. What the heck did they…
There was a sudden noise behind him and he froze. A horse was approaching. Kid twisted as best he could trying to see who was there. It could be whoever had done this to him, coming back to check on him or it could be help. He had to take the chance.
“Hello?” he called.
No answer. The horse stopped. He could hear its breath.
“Hey, d’you think you could give me a hand here?” Kid asked, loudly.
No answer but there was the sound of someone dismounting.
“Hey fella, could you help me? Please? Hello?”
Footsteps drew nearer and Kid twisted once more. A pair of small feet and a split riding skirt came into view.
“Well, well, well, now isn’t this an interesting sight?” Elizabeth Darkly said, as she stepped in front of Kid.
“Elizabeth!” Kid sighed with relief. “Boy am I glad to see you. Hey untie me, will you?”
“Untie you?” Elizabeth said, and she considered this. She made no move to do so. Instead, she stepped over the rail to stand beside him.
“C’mon, untie me. There’s gonna be a train through here anytime.”
“Oh don’t worry the 3.10 to Yuma’s always late.” Elizabeth crouched down, studying the bonds. “They look tight.”
“They are,” he told her, an edge creeping into his voice, not appreciating her sense of humour.
“And you look all…bound and helpless,” she added with a wicked smile.
She ran a hand across his chest.
“Will you stop that!” he snapped, shifting uncomfortably.
“What should I do with you Mr. Curry? Now that I have you, at my mercy?”
He took a deep, tolerant breath.
“Just untie me please?”
Elizabeth smiled, her hand moving down his shirt. Kid narrowed his eyes.
“Maybe I should sit here a while. I could finish my research. You do remember my research don’t you?” Her hand moved lower still and he tried to move his hips away. “…See what comes up?” she said with an innocent smile.
Kid didn’t rise to that.
“Just get me outta here!” he snapped.
“Now is that any way to speak to someone whose help you need?” she asked him, feigning hurt feelings. “I mean if a train came along now…oooh squish!”
“Elizabeth!” he snarled between gritted teeth.
She leaned closer.
“You want me to untie you?”
He took a deep breath.
“Then kiss me.”
“Kiss me.” Elizabeth leaned closer, her face above his, lips tantalisingly close. “It’s my fee.”
“You’re fee! Woman you are the most…”
She moved away.
“Well if you want to stay there…”
“All right I’ll kiss you.”
“I thought you might.”
Elizabeth smiled. Kid glared.
She knelt down, leaning close once more. Kid puckered up and her lips pressed against his. He gave her a chaste kiss, then pulled away.
“What was that?” she asked, clearly disappointed.
“It wasn’t good enough.”
“Well I didn’t know you were going to grade it! Sheesh woman will you just get me outta here?”
“It wasn’t up to the standard I’m used to.” She ignored his pleas to be released. “Remember I have Hannibal to compare you with.”
His eyes met hers.
“Want to try again?” She leaned closer. Kid gave another heavy sigh but this time, when her mouth covered his he didn’t hold back. Elizabeth held his chin in one hand as her other pressed against his chest. She soon found herself enjoying the long…deep…very long…very deep….very enjoyable…very passionate…wonderfully…
Kid pulled away and Elizabeth let out an involuntary gasp.
“Satisfied?” Kid asked, smugly.
“Not bad,” she told him, when she had composed herself. “I may need to start an in-depth study of your other attributes.” She gave him a wicked smile.
“Now will you please untie me?” Suddenly Kid felt the Earth move and his eyes opened wide. “There’s a train coming!” he told her.
“Of course there is,” she said dismissively.
“There is! I can feel the vibration.” The tracks began to shake beneath his wrists.
“Are you sure it’s not just excitement?”
And then they heard the whistle. Kid’s eyes fixed on hers, conveying a sense of urgency. Elizabeth fumbled with the ropes around his wrists but they were pulled too tight for her to undo them.
“There’s a knife in my pocket!” he told her.
“I see it,” she said as she reached into the pocket of his pants.
“Not that!” Kid snapped.
“The other pocket.”
Elizabeth gave him a smile and removed the knife. The tracks began to shake and the train whistle sounded again, as she started to cut through the ropes. Elizabeth saw a cloud of grey smoke rising over the trees.
“Cut faster!” Kid yelled.
“I’m doing my best!” she told him and he felt the ropes around his right wrist finally break free. She quickly went to work on the ones on his left. When he hands were free, Kid sat up and as Elizabeth worked to cut one ankle free, Kid tugged at the ropes on the other. The train came into view, its cow catcher bearing down on them, whistle blasting, warning them to get out of the way.
“Get outta here!” Kid told her, as he freed his right leg, but Elizabeth kept cutting. “Here let me,” Kid said, taking the knife from her and attacking the rope. Elizabeth stayed beside him.
“NOT UNTIL YOU CAN.”
Closer…cutting…cutting…whistle blasting…cow catcher looming…closer.
“GO! JUST GO!”
Finally the last rope was cut free. Kid pulled himself to his feet, grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and dived out of the path of the train, as it thundered past.
Heyes heard the frantic blast of the train whistle and knew something was wrong. He turned his horse and headed in the direction of the railway tracks.
They fell, rolling down a slope and finally came to a halt in a ditch at the bottom of the embankment. Breathless they lay together, Elizabeth on top of Kid. Slowly they became aware of their situation. Elizabeth’s eyes met Kid’s. He gave a slight smile. Thoughts passed between them. That had been close, one more second and… Elizabeth made no attempt to move. Their eyes held each others, their breathing not slowing. Kid knew he should move. She was so close. He saw it in her eyes. Kid swallowed. He knew he should move.
“Elizabeth…” and then she kissed him. Kid was surprised by the passion in her kiss. Her mouth covered his and she held his face in her hands, kissing him hungrily. Not thinking, Kid found himself responding. His arms encircled her, holding her close, one hand moving down her back, caressing her body. She felt good in his arms. As her lips moved to his neck, he breathed in her scent. Kid felt Elizabeth’s breath hot on his skin.
“And I thought you didn’t share,” she whispered, huskily, as she bit his ear lobe. “We both know what you want.”
The truth in her words stunned him, snapping him back to reality and he pushed her away, holding her at arms length.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Don’t you mean what are we doing?”
He sat up, moving from under her.
She tried to close the gap between them.
“I may have started this but don’t tell me you don’t want to finish it?” Her eyes sparkled with the thrill of the moment. Kid stared at her in disbelief.
“Why thank you, you pretty good yourself.”
“This isn’t happening.”
“It sure felt like it was to me.”
“Is this a game to you?”
“Oh don’t get so pious Kid,” she scoffed, sitting back on his heels “You’ve just been kissing your partner’s woman.”
Kid’s mouth dropped open in disbelief, but it was true.
“This stops now!” he told her and they sat facing each other, as if locked in a test of nerve.
“What the heck are you two up to?” a voice asked. Kid raised his head, spotting a man at the top of the embankment.
“Heyes!” Kid tried not to look guilty.
Making no attempt to move, Elizabeth gave Kid a knowing smile before turning to face the dark-haired man.
“Hello Hannibal,” she smiled. Heyes made his way down the slope. He held out a hand, which Elizabeth took gratefully, and he helped her to her feet. She brushed the crushed leaves and dirt from her skirt and began to straighten her hair.
Heyes looked down at his partner, noting the bruise on his temple and the worried look on his face.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” the blond man replied, vaguely, not meeting his partner’s eyes. Just how much had Heyes seen or heard? He took the hand Heyes offered him and climbed to his feet. A wave of nausea swept over him. Kid swayed as he stood up. Heyes put out a hand to steady him. Kid waited for the world to stop spinning. His head hurt.
“Sit down,” Heyes said with concern.
Kid settled himself on a boulder, holding the right side of his head. A sudden thought came to him and he reached for his gun, only to find the holster empty.
“Damn it!” he cursed.
“What happened?” Heyes asked.
“My horse went down. Next thing I knew I was…” He looked up at the track, suddenly embarrassed by what had been done to him.
“You were what?” Heyes prompted.
“Tied up,” Kid said, dismissively, casting a glance at Elizabeth, wondering what she would say. Heyes did not miss this.
“Elizabeth?” he asked.
“I found him,” she said and then added, with hidden meaning, “And set him free.”
Kid shot her a look and she turned back to Heyes. “And you found us.”
“You were supposed to stay put,” he reminded her.
“What, and miss all the fun? Besides if I hadn’t come along when I did…” She stopped herself.
“What?” Heyes asked, infuriated by their obvious attempts to hide something from him.
“Nothing,” she said.
“Kid?” Heyes prompted again.
“We’d better get going,” the blond man suggested.
“Let me take a look at your head first.” Kid nodded and Heyes examined the bruise. There was no broken skin and Kid was focusing just fine.
“Is he all right?” Elizabeth asked from behind Heyes. She rested her chin on his shoulder as she peered at his partner.
“I think so.” He looked at Kid. “You up to it?”
“Oh, I’d say he is,” Elizabeth said, winking at the blond man, knowing Heyes could not see.
Kid ignored her and got slowly to his feet.
“Okay,” Heyes agreed. “But don’t either of you think this is over. I don’t know what it is you’re not telling me, but I’ll find out.”
“I sure hope not,” Kid muttered, as they headed for the horses.
With Kid’s horse gone they had to double up on the two remaining animals. Kid rode Elizabeth’s horse and the dark-haired woman climbed up behind Heyes, wrapping her arms around his waist and snuggling close as she did so.
“Isn’t this a better way to ride?” she whispered in his ear as they walked the horses.
“Not for the horse.”
“I wasn’t thinking of the horse.”
Not the most verbose of men at the best of times, Kid seemed quieter than usual. Heyes put it down to the blow he’d taken to his head. He didn’t press him to talk although he knew there was something they were not telling him. He’d found them together at the bottom of the embankment, the look they were exchanging spoke volumes he just didn’t know about what. He knew he’d find out eventually.
“So what are we going to do?” Elizabeth asked, later, as they walked the horses beside the railway track. “As much as I am enjoying this, two horses won’t carry us all the way to Sagebush will they? And if those men come back…”
“We’re going to board the train,” Heyes told her, as he looked off into the distance.
Kid looked across at him but he didn’t say anything.
“There’s a station out here?” Elizabeth looked around.
“No,” Heyes said turning to face her. “But we can board it all the same.” He pointed ahead. “The railway track heads up an incline over there. The train will have to slow down. It should be enough for us to climb on.” He looked at Kid who was considering this.
“I had hoped to join it at Sagebrush,” Elizabeth told him. “You know, in the usual manner. Buy a ticket. Step up from a platform. Sit down on a seat; that sort of thing. I guess I should have known you two never take the easy way.”
“That could have been the last train through today.” Kid didn’t meet Heyes’ eyes when he spoke and this troubled his partner.
“It isn’t. I looked at the timetable in Monahan’s study before we left.”
“You’re seriously talking about boarding the train here?” Elizabeth asked.
“It’ll be fine,” Heyes assured her.
“Yeah,” Kid agreed. “I mean what could go wrong?”
Two sets of brown eyes looked at him.
“Are you avoiding me?” Elizabeth asked as she approached Kid. He was undoing the cinch on his saddle, preparing to release the horses.
“Kinda hard to,” Kid replied.
“Is that a yes?”
“Now why would I want to avoid you?” His eyes met hers and she smiled.
“Oh, I don’t know. You might be feeling guilty about what happened between us.”
“Nothing happened between us.”
“It didn’t feel that way to me. Felt like you wanted something real bad.” Kid walked around the other side of the horse. “It felt like you wanted a little of what your partner’s been getting.”
“Elizabeth, if you’re getting feelings for me maybe you should tell Heyes.”
“I’m not getting feelings for you!” she protested. “On the contrary I think…”
“Then how come you’re hanging around me now and not my partner?” He looked at her over his horse. “Of course I can understand the attraction, I have that affect on a lot of women, but you’d better make sure you let Heyes down real easy.”
“Why you conceited…” Kid winked at her and headed back for his bedroll.
“I’ve a good mind to tell him!” she called after him.
“Go ahead,” he called over his shoulder, secretly hoping she wouldn’t. This was one complication they didn’t need.
Heyes sat watching the railway track, when Kid approached. The blond man sat down beside his partner, resting his back against a large boulder.
“Everything all right?” Heyes asked.
“You don’t sound too sure. Is your head okay?” Heyes eyed him with concern.
“It’s not so bad.”
“All right what is it?”
“It’s me you’re talking to. What is it?” Heyes looked at his partner and waited.
Kid gave a heavy sigh.
“I’m dealing with it, Heyes.”
“Don’t let her get to you Kid.”
“She may already have.”
“Is there something I should know?” Kid caught the change in his partner’s tone of voice.
“No. Nothing.” He met Heyes’ stare. “Nothing,” he assured him. Heyes stared thoughtfully along the track, and then drew his gun. He held it out towards Kid.
“You’d better take this.”
“Heyes, I can’t…”
“I’ll use the rifle. Go on take it. The train will be here soon. Can’t have Kid Curry unarmed can we?”
Kid nodded, took the Schofield, and slipped it easily into his holster.
“Can I have a word with you?” Heyes asked as he approached Elizabeth.
“Any word in particular?” She looked up from where she waited with the saddlebags and rifles.
“What’s he been saying?”
“He told me everything,” Heyes lied.
“I doubt it.”
“So what’s there to tell?”
She considered this. He studied her face.
“I don’t believe you, but leave him alone, okay?”
“He can take care of himself.”
“Yes, he can, but I’m doing it for him. I mean it Elizabeth.” She met his stern gaze and smiled.
“He’s very lucky to have you looking out for him,” she told him truthfully. “I’m having fun with him, that’s all.”
“And look where that led with me.” He smiled but the warning was still there. “Come on, we need to get ready.”
Kid sat with his back to a rock, hat pulled over his eyes. His chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm but Heyes knew he wasn’t asleep. His partner would be listening, just as he was, for the slightest sound of an approaching rider or train. Heyes turned to Elizabeth.
“When the train comes round that bend we’ll break cover,” he told her. “Then you run, just as fast as you can. I’ll get in first then pull you up. Kid will keep an eye on you and make sure you get in.”
Elizabeth considered this.
“Is that okay?” Heyes asked.
“I trust you Hannibal. I’m sure you wouldn’t ask me to do anything too dangerous.”
“Don’t you believe it,” Kid scoffed and got a look from his friend in return.
A distant whistle heralded the arrival of the train to Sagebrush. They got ready, poised like coyotes waiting to spring on their prey. Well tired and dusty coyotes in footwear not suitable for the terrain but poised all the same.
The train chugged along the track, a great plume of smoke billowing into the sky, as it passed them. There were three boxcars and, fortuitously, each had its doors open.
“Now!” Heyes cried, grabbed Elizabeth by the hand and all three broke cover and ran. When they reached the train Elizabeth was surprised by how fast it appeared to be moving. She quashed the feeling of fear she felt as it thundered by. Heyes put his hands flat on the floor of the first open car, his feet keeping time, and then pulled himself up inside. Turning swiftly he held out his hand as Kid threw the rifles and bags into the car.
“Come on Elizabeth!” he called. The dark-haired woman ran for all her worth. She held out her hand and Heyes caught it. She tried to pull herself up into the car but found herself, half in half out of it, legs dangling in mid air. “Get in!” Kid yelled and Elizabeth felt his hand flat on her bottom.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she cried. He didn’t remove his hand.
“GET IN!” he yelled again, giving her another shove.
“I’m trying!” she called back. Kid put two hands on her rear and pushed. Heyes grabbed hold of her clothes by the waist and heaved, dragging her across the boxcar floor. It was not the most lady-like of entrances but with one mighty pull Elizabeth found herself on the train. Having dumped her unceremoniously out of the way, Heyes turned his attention to his partner.
Kid was running fast beside the train. Heart pumping, breathing laboured he sprinted to keep up. The train was picking up speed and he wouldn’t be able to match it for much longer. Once more, Heyes held out his hand. Kid reached for it but they were still too far apart.
“Grab hold!” Heyes called.
Kid ran. Closer…closer…just a finger’s width away…faster…faster…the train was getting faster.
“Grab hold, damn it!” Heyes yelled.
Kid caught hold of Heyes hand at the same time as he grabbed a rail beside the door. Heyes hauled his partner up and Kid swung his legs inside the car. Both men stumbled backwards, collapsing to the floor, breathing heavily.
“That was fun. Do you boys do this often?”
Two heads rose from the floor.
“Only when we haven’t got any money,” Kid informed her, as he pushed himself up to rest on his elbows.
Elizabeth began to explore her new surroundings. There were numerous crates and boxes labelled with the words Nails or Tack. Sacks of feed lined one wall along with rope and coils of wire, several empty sacks lay on top of a large barrel. She had no idea what that contained. Elizabeth pushed on a sack, testing it for comfort, and then sat down on it.
“So what do we do now?” she wanted to know.
“We wait.” Heyes got to his feet.
“How long will it take us to reach Sagebrush?”
“A couple of hours. Once there we stay hidden, hope no one finds us. From there it’s another day to Fury.”
She looked up at him seductively.
“Whatever will we do to pass the time?”
“Sheesh!” Kid muttered.
It was dark by the time the train pulled into Sagebush. They waited, listening for the approach of a guard; hidden behind the boxes. When no one came they realised that these provisions were probably bound for Fury. From his recollection Heyes was sure the train would stay over inSagebush for about an hour.
They needed food and something to drink and the chance to freshen up. It was agreed that while Elizabeth used the station facilities and Heyes kept guard, Kid would go into town and see what he could purchase.
“Can I borrow your lock pick?” Kid asked.
Heyes eyed him suspiciously.
“What are you going to do, rob the bank?”
“No, but I’ve learned a thing or two from you over the years.”
“You’re not gonna do anything illegal right? I mean we’re supposed to stay out of trouble, remember?”
“Heyes can I borrow it or not? It might be useful.”
Heyes considered this and then reached into his boot. Removing the pick he held it out to Kid, clearly not too sure about handing it over.
“I’ll look after it,” Kid assured him. “I promise.”
Between them, they pulled the boxcar door open just enough for Kid to slip out and onto the trackside. Heyes watched as his partner disappeared into the shadows, and then he helped Elizabeth down from the car. He watched as the dark-haired woman disappeared into the station building. When Elizabeth had freshened up she found him waiting for her outside. Cautiously they crept back to the boxcar and Heyes pulled the door open.
“How do I get back in?” she asked.
Heyes reached forward, placed his hands around her waist. She put her hands on top of his, meeting his eyes.
“Such strong manly arms,” she cooed. Heyes shook his head in disbelief. She smiled and he hoisted her up, before climbing in after her.
“Alone again.” Elizabeth smiled at him, wickedly.
“No!” he told her firmly.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t need to, I know that look.”
“Hmm, am I getting so predictable?”
“About some things, yes.”
She moved closer.
“But I have certain needs only you can fulfil,” she told him, huskily.
“Sheesh Elizabeth, will you stop it!”
“Hannibal, I…” At a sound outside Heyes picked up the rifle beside the door. Elizabeth grabbed the other one and moved into the shadows on the other side of the door. Something or someone was moving along the track outside. They waited, in silence, in the dark as footsteps approached.
The boxcar door slid open and Kid threw a sack inside. He found himself face to face with a rifle and froze. Elizabeth’s eyes met his. She didn’t lower the weapon and for a fleeting moment he wondered what she might do.
“This is tempting,” she told him. “One squeeze of the trigger and I’ll have Hannibal all to myself.” Heyes stepped forward.
“Stop it,” he told her. Elizabeth lowered the weapon, but her gaze remained on Kid and the tension sizzled between them. Reaching out a hand, Heyes helped pull Kid into the boxcar.
“Everything go all right?” Heyes asked. He held the rifle in the crook of his arm and glance quickly outside before closing the boxcar door.
“Yeah. I don’t think anyone saw me.”
“What did you get?”
Kid emptied the contents onto the floor of the boxcar.
“Apples?” Elizabeth said in disgust.
“Not just apples,” Kid told her as he held up some bread. Elizabeth sorted through the provisions.
“Where did you get it?” Heyes asked.
“I paid a man who works in the hotel to get me some things.”
“Was he suspicious?”
“No. I just said I was heading out early in the morning and needed to stock up. From what he charged me I don’t think he’ll be too worried.”
“So you didn’t need the lock pick?”
“No, Heyes. I got it all legal.” Kid reached into his vest pocket, and then handed the pick back to his partner. Heyes returned it to his boot, just as the train lurched. They were on their way once more.
It was dark outside. Elizabeth had been dozing on a pile of worn sacks they had thrown together for her. Opening her eyes she saw the silhouette of Heyes in the open doorway of the boxcar. Wrapping her shawl around her shoulders she climbed to her feet, took a few unsteady steps, until she gained her balance, and then walked towards him. He looked up as she approached.
“You should be sleeping,” he told her.
“So should you.”
“I don’t sleep much.”
“I know.” She sat down beside him, pulling her legs under her. She glanced across at Kid, apparently sleeping peacefully in a corner, his hat over his eyes. “Kid on the other hand…”
“Is probably listening to every word you say,” Heyes smiled then cast his gaze out into the darkness as Elizabeth shot a suspicious glance at the sleeping blond man. He showed no sign of hearing them. Heyes watched as black shapes hurried by on the side of the track. The sound of the train on the tracks was hypnotic. Elizabeth leaned against him and he placed an arm about her shoulder, drawing her closer.
“What will you do when we reach Fury? You can’t come into town with me.” She looked at his face, trying to make out his expression in the darkness.
“We’ll get off before we reach town,” he told her. “One of us will go in and find Lom.”
“Into a town full of US Marshals,” she reminded him.
“I could go on my own.”
“Yes you could, but I’m not gonna let you.”
“I love it when you’re masterful,” she teased. He didn’t reply, enjoying instead the feel of her close to him. “However that doesn’t’ change the fact that the town will be full of lawmen.”
“Which one of you will go?”
“We haven’t decided yet.”
“You want to go don’t you?” She felt his shoulders stiffen. “You’re afraid someone will recognise you and you don’t want Kid to be caught.”
“You seem to have this all worked out,” he observed, clearly amused.
“I’m right though, aren’t I?”
“They won’t be looking for us but they will be scrutinising everyone in town. Kid could certainly defend himself if there was trouble, however…”
“You think there may be a call for someone with a silver tongue?”
She moved to sit facing him. Without a word she leaned forward and kissed him.
“What was that for?” he asked, when she pulled away.
“For trying to protect us, Kid and me.” She leaned in again, her lips on his. He kissed her back this time, his arms pulling her closer and, as the moon appeared from behind the clouds, he gently eased her onto her back.
“Up ahead, beyond the bend,” Kid said and Heyes looked to where his partner pointed. “I reckon we’ll have to slow down there. It could be our only chance.”
Heyes considered this.
“All right,” he agreed and Kid went to get the saddle bags.
“What’s going on?” Elizabeth asked, coming to stand beside Heyes.
“We’re getting off,” he informed her, turning to help Kid gather their things.
“We’re getting off?” she asked incredulously. Elizabeth looked out at the scenery hurrying by. There was nothing there; no station, no water tower; nothing for the train to stop for. “Here?”
“Yes,” Kid confirmed. Realisation hit her.
“We’re going to jump?”
“Uh huh,” said Heyes.
“Off a moving train?”
“Yep,” Kid said, as he pulled the door open wider.
“And you don’t expect us to die?” No reply. “Are you both crazy?”
“You should know the answer to that by now,” Heyes told her cheerfully, as he caught hold of her elbow. “Ready?”
“NO!” She wriggled free, stepping away from him. “You’re insane! Look how fast we’re going.” She pointed at the tops of trees and shrubs blurred by the speed of the train.
“We’ll be slowing down soon,” Kid assured her, as he moved to stand beside Heyes.
“Jumping off a moving train is SUICIDAL!” she snapped, clearly terrified they were serious.
Heyes held out his hand to her.
“It’ll be all right, come on.”
“It will not be all right. We’ll be killed or seriously injured.”
“Elizabeth it’ll be fine,” Kid said, taking a step towards her.
“STAY BACK!” she shouted and he stopped. “Stay back or so help me I’ll tell him what you did.”
Kid froze. Heyes’ interest was sparked but this was not the time to question them.
“Sweetheart we have to get off,” Heyes told her. “You know we can’t go into Fury.”
“We could hide, like we did before,” she pointed to the crates. “Then sneak out when no one is looking.”
“We can’t go into Fury,” Heyes repeated. “We have to get off now.” She looked at the side of the track. Kid was right, they were slowing down. Her eyes met Heyes’. She knew they were going to jump. Elizabeth took a step closer. Heyes caught hold of her arm and pulled her to him.
“When I give the word, jump,” he said. “When you land bend your knees and roll. Got that?” She nodded.
“So what about last night? You and me? Was that in case we didn’t survive this?” she asked. “One last…”
“JUMP!” Heyes yelled and pushed her out of the boxcar. Elizabeth hit the ground with a jolt and tumbled down the embankment. As soon as he had pushed her out, Heyes followed. Kid waited until his friend was clear, threw out their things and then launched himself off the train.
Kid groaned. He’d landed awkwardly, rolled head over heals down the embankment and ended up flat on his back once more, stunned but apparently in one piece. At least this time he wasn’t tied to the track.
“Elizabeth?” he heard his partner call and raised his head. Heyes was running along the bottom of the gully towards the prone figure of Mrs Darkly. Hearing the concern in Heyes’ voice, Kid quickly pulled himself to his feet and set off after him.
“Elizabeth?” Heyes asked, as he dropped to his knees beside her. “Elizabeth? You all right?”
A loud groan emanated from the woman lying face down in the dirt.
“Only a man could think it was a good idea to jump off a moving train,” she stated as she pulled herself to her knees. Her hair was a mess; her clothes covered in dust. Heyes saw a cut on her cheek. Removing his bandana he placed it on the cut. She put her hand on top of his.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” he asked.
“Somewhere private,” she said, easing herself into a more comfortable position. Heyes grinned. “Maybe you can give me a closer examination when we’re alone.”
Kid approached them.
“Everything okay?” the blond man asked.
“Just a little bruised,” she told him. “What do we do now?”
“We find the cabin Lom told us about and then one of us will head into town tomorrow and find Lom,” Heyes informed her. He saw her quizzical look. “Lom told us there were some old mine workings up in the hills. There’s a cabin there we can use.” He stood up and held out his hand to her. When she took it, he pulled her to her feet.
After a long walk and a climb up a hill, they found the cabin. It stood in a clearing. There was a small corral off to one side, a well out front and at the back, an outhouse. They stood in the trees, watching the cabin for a few moments, then Kid drew his gun and they approached the building. Climbing the steps, Heyes held the rifle and placed one hand on the door handle. Kid’s eyes scanned the trees. Nothing moved. Cautiously Heyes turned the handle. The door opened with a creak. He looked inside. No one was there. Kid remained on the porch, ever watchful as Heyes explored the interior.
In the centre of the main room stood a table and four chairs; a fireplace was to the left. At the back was another room. The door was open revealing two single beds with a worn mattress and a single pillow on each. It was basic but habitable. On the table were piled three neatly folded blankets. A bar of soap sat on top of them and beside them was a sack. Heyes peered inside and smiled when he saw the provisions. There was no note but Heyes suspected they had been left by a certain sheriff. Good ol’ Lom.
“It’s clear,” he announced when he stepped back onto the porch. “There’s cans of food and coffee on the table. Looks like Lom was here.” Elizabeth emerged from the trees carrying the saddlebags and a rifle. Kid went to meet her, relieving her of the bags. She followed Heyes inside the cabin and Kid gave one last look around before doing the same.
“Soap!” Elizabeth exclaimed. Putting down the rifle, she picked up the bar, smelling it. “Perfumed too.”
“Don’t s’pose he left that for you and me,” Kid observed wryly and Heyes smiled.
“There was a creek further down the hillside. I could…” Elizabeth pondered.
“No!” Heyes told her firmly.
“I only want to wash.”
“Then get a bucket from the well.”
“I want to wash more than…”
“You’re not going off alone.”
“Then come with me and keep an eye on me…or two,” she smiled sweetly at him.
“We stay here. You stay out of sight,” Heyes told her.
“Am I allowed to go to the out house?”
“What about cooking? Someone might see the smoke.”
“We can use the fireplace. I just want you hidden as much as possible.” He waited to see if she would fight him some more. She didn’t. “It won’t be for long. I’ll bring in a bucket of water and you can…well Kid and I could wait outside.” Elizabeth shrugged.
Kid set about lighting a fire in the stone fireplace, Heyes unpacked the sack of food and Elizabeth went to take a closer look at the bedroom. She sat down on the bed nearest the door. The springs squeaked. She tried the other one. Quieter. That would do. There was something that looked like black sheep’s wool sticking out of the pillow but it looked clean enough.
When she looked up, Heyes was standing in the doorway. He smiled as he held out a blanket.
“This one is the quietest,” she told him bouncing on the edge of the bed to demonstrate.
“Then you should sleep well.” He tossed the blanket at her. She caught it, watching him head back to the table.
The aroma of coffee soon filled the cabin along with the snap and crackle of wood burning in the fireplace. Kid had placed the cans of food on a shelf and was just pouring himself a cup of coffee when Elizabeth emerged from the bedroom refreshed from a short nap.
“Where’s Hannibal?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
“Gone to get some water,” Kid informed her. He held up his cup. “Want some?”
He picked up another cup and began to pour.
“I’m sorry,” she said, suddenly.
She took the cup from him.
“You know.” He didn’t reply. “I don’t want to come between you two.”
“You won’t,” he told her, confidently. Elizabeth’s hackles rose.
“I don’t imagine he’d be too pleased if he knew.”
“There’s nothing to tell.” Kid met her steely gaze with one of his own.
“You kissed me. You wanted to…”
“No! I didn’t!” He reconsidered. “Well maybe, in the heat of the moment.”
“Guess I’ll just have to get you heated again.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen between us.”
“You don’t believe that anymore than I do.”
“You were threatening to shoot me on the train. Now you want to…?”
The door opened and they fell silent as Heyes walked in, carrying a bucket of water.
“Your bath madam.” Kid looked away and Elizabeth turned her attention to the water. She dipped her finger below the surface.
“Do you want us to warm it for you, one saucepan at a time?” Heyes asked.
“No, it’ll do.” She picked it up and headed to the bedroom. “And no peeking through the key hole.”
“Nothing I ain’t seen before!” they chorused. Elizabeth glared at them, closing the door just as they burst out laughing.
“I’ll go.” There was added determination in Kid’s voice this time. “If I have to shoot my way out…”
“No! If someone gets caught you have a better chance of getting me out than I do,” Heyes objected. He paced up and down in front of the fire. It was dark outside and the discussion had been going on for sometime, the tension between the partners growing, as they fought over who should go into town the following day.
“Lom will be there.”
“And he won’t be able to help.”
“You don’t know that!” Kid glared at his partner. They had been going round in circles and they were getting no where.
“Oh will you two stop it!” Elizabeth finally snapped. “If you don’t quit arguing, I’ll go in by myself.”
The men exchanged a look.
“Hannibal, Kid’s right. He only has to find Lom. No one is going to be on the look out for Kid Curry and if anyone did recognise him, you know he stands a better chance of getting away.” She watched this sink in.
“No, he doesn’t,” Heyes told her firmly. He headed out the door.
Kid gave a heavy sigh and followed. Elizabeth was about to do the same but he stopped her.
“No. This is between him and me.” His meaning was all too clear. And for once Elizabeth didn’t argue.
Kid found Heyes leaning against the far porch post, arms folded across his chest. Clouds covered the moon as he stared out into the darkness.
“We could toss for it,” Kid said, lightly coming to stand beside his friend. “Just as long as we use my coin.”
“It’s a town full of U.S Marshals, Kid; men paid to be on the lookout for outlaws; men who’ll have memorised every wanted poster. I just don’t like the odds.”
“Well they’re likely to recognise you just as much as me.”
“And there’s Elizabeth to think about.”
“Yeah, isn’t there…” Heyes gave a long sigh and looked up at his friend. “You’ll be careful?”
“I don’t like this.”
“I have an idea,” a voice said behind them and they turned to see Elizabeth, standing in the doorway, her shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
“All right blondie in the bedroom and get your shirt off!” Elizabeth ordered. She stood in the doorway to the back room. Kid hesitated and gave her a look. “Get in there!” Reluctantly he headed towards her.
“What’s that?” he asked, looking at the white paste she was stirring in a basin.
“Something I’m going to rub all over you,” she said, raising her eyebrows wickedly.
Kid turned to look at Heyes, who stood by the fireplace, and received a sympathetic smile. Elizabeth pointed and Kid entered the room.
“No peeking,” she told Heyes, as she closed the door.
She didn’t say no listening, Heyes though. He crossed the room, pressing his ear against the door.
“On the bed,” Elizabeth said.
There was sound of bed springs creaking.
“You’d better take your Henley off too.”
“Now wait a minute…!” Kid complained.
“I don’t want to get it all sticky,” Elizabeth explained.
A heavy sigh, sounds of clothing being removed; some muttering on Kid’s part.
“Hey that’s cold!” Kid complained.
“What the heck are you gonna do with that?”
“You’re not putting that…!”
“Just hold still will you!”
Outside Heyes suppressed a laugh. When Kid stopped complaining, he assumed Elizabeth was getting on with things and went to make some coffee. However, he had a feeling his partner was going to need something much stronger by the time Mrs Darkly had finished with him.
Sometime later, when Heyes was sitting at the table, sipping on a cup of coffee, the door opened and Elizabeth stepped out.
“He’s ready for inspection,” she announced. Heyes stood up and looked at the open bedroom door. Kid stepped out. What Heyes saw pulled him up sharp and he tried not to laugh. Kid was wearing a black beard, a beard which on closer inspection appeared to be made of wool…wool from the inside of a pillow. The blond man did not look happy with his…disguise.
“What do you think?” Elizabeth asked, proudly. Heyes bit his lips real hard, he screwed his eyes up, trying to stay serious, he looked at the floor, and then he looked at the wall beside the bedroom door. He looked anywhere, except at Kid and, eventually, he had to turn away, as he stifled a laugh.
“All right that’s it!” Kid snapped. “This stuff comes off!”
“NO!” they chorused.
“Kid, it’s fine really,” Heyes assured him, turning back to his friend. “Why from a few feet away it looks…well it looks…like a…”
“It looks like a beard,” Elizabeth told him. “It does.”
“And no doubt I look like an idiot. I’ll draw more attention with this thing on than if I rode down the middle of Main Street twirling my gun!”
“But you’re not gonna be seen by anyone except Lom,” Heyes reminded him. “It’s only meant to fool people from a distance.”
“What distance? Ten miles?” Kid asked. He wished there was a mirror in the cabin so he could see if he looked as ridiculous as he felt.
“It’ll be fine Kid,” Heyes assured him. “Trust me.”
“It’s just…different. That’s all.”
Lom Trevors was roused from a nap by someone knocking on his hotel room door. He seemed to be taking naps more often, these past couple of years, and reluctantly admitted to himself that it might have something to do with his age. The knocking sound came again. Bleary eyed he sat on the edge of the bed before standing up and heading for the door. He blinked a couple of times, before opening the door.
A man in a familiar brown hat stood before him. He wore his gun tied down and shifted uneasily as he waited outside. He kept his head down. When he finally looked up, two intense blue eyes peered at the sheriff from over the top of a bushy black beard; a clearly false, bushy black beard.
“It’s me, Kid.”
“Never would have guessed,” Lom said, sardonically, stepping to one side to let him into the room.
“We’re just outside town, at the cabin,” Kid told him when the door was closed. “We have Elizabeth.” The sheriff wasn’t listening. His eyes were focussed on the black stuff stuck to Kid’s face? Was it fur? No…fluff? Wool?
“What the heck is that?” the sheriff asked and Kid sighed.
“A false beard.”
“You don’t say?”
“Elizabeth made it, outta wool from a pillow.”
“Imagine that.” Lom’s eyes were still fixed on the fluff attached to Kid’s chin. “How’s it fixed on?”
“Flour and water paste.”
“And you thought it’d help you blend in huh?” the sheriff asked, incredulously.
“Well it wasn’t meant to be…Lom will you just listen to me?”
“What?” Lom asked, finally paying attention to what Kid had to say. “Oh sure, go ahead.”
“I said, we have Elizabeth.”
Lom’s expression grew serious.
“Then we need to bring her in.”
Kid reached into his vest pocket, pulling out a piece of paper.
“Here’s a list of things Heyes wants me to take back.” He handed the paper to Lom, who looked at it. “We’ll need horses too. I’m not walking all that way again.”
“I’ve already got some at the livery. I’ll see what I can do about this other stuff. You wait here, lock the door behind me. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” The sheriff took his hat from the back of the door, placed it firmly on his head, took one more look at Kid’s beard and, with a shake of his head, left.
Kid sat on the edge of the bed. He could do nothing now except wait.
It was a little after one am when three figures on horseback rode into town. They pulled their animals to a halt at the back of the hotel. One man, in a brown hat, eased himself from the saddle, drew his gun and walked cautiously to the hotel’s side stairs. When he was reassured that the coast was clear he beckoned to the others. They climbed from their horses and went swiftly up the stairs to the first floor. Once they were safely inside, the first man followed them.
Sheriff Lom Trevors opened the door to his room and the three slipped inside.
“Everything go all right?” he asked, with concern, as he shut and locked the door.
“We hope so Lom,” Heyes said, pushing back his hat.
“Didn’t see anyone pick up our trail,” Kid added. The third person removed the hat Lom had purchased for her that afternoon. Long dark hair tumbled free.
“Hello Elizabeth,” Lom said. “I’m glad you made it.”
“Hello Lom. Travelling with these two I’m lucky to be alive.” She placed a hand on his arm and he smiled.
“Well you’d better all make yourselves comfortable. I don’t think they’ll need Elizabeth at the trial until mid-morning.”
There was a knock at the door. Four heads turned at the sound.
“Sheriff Trevors?” a man’s voiced boomed. “It’s Marshal Wilding.”
Kid drew his gun, receiving a worried glance from Heyes as he did so. Elizabeth saw a look pass between the partners; something she had never seen before. For a fleeting moment fear was etched on their faces. They held each other’s gaze, then Kid gave an almost imperceptible nod and they moved to stand either side of the door. It was as if they had acknowledged each other’s fear then suppressed it in the bat of an eye, ready to deal with whatever they were about to face, together. For the first time Elizabeth realised what being captured would mean to these men; what she had once tried to do to them and what they were risking now by helping her.
“Sheriff?” the Marshal called again.
“It’s all right Lom,” Heyes whispered.
The sheriff opened the door slightly and peered cautiously out into the corridor, as Elizabeth grabbed her shawl. A tall man with a metal star pinned to his chest stood before him. Two others, similarly attired, stood behind him.
“We’ve come to escort Mrs Darkly,” Marshal Wilding explained.
“We’re ready to go,” Lom stated. Elizabeth moved to the door, her eyes meeting Heyes’ as she did so. His concern was obvious and she gave him a reassuring smile. Lom stepped into the hallway. Elizabeth followed and the sheriff locked the door. Seeing her look of consternation, Lom explained, “We don’t want anyone getting in and surprising us when we get back do we?”
“No,” she agreed.
“It’d take an expert to get in, or out, of there.” He gave her a wink and she smiled, hooking her arm in his then following the Marshals towards the stairs. Inside the room, two ex-outlaws breathed a sigh of relief and settled down for what could well be a long wait.
The sound of the judge’s gavel resounded around the courtroom.
“This court will come to order!” Judge Blixson’s voice boomed and, slowly, the murmuring died down. All eyes focussed on the elderly looking gentleman at the front of the courtroom. One or two latecomers took their seats, receiving an official glare from the bench. The trial of Morgan Kramer was about to begin.
When it was her turn on the stand, Elizabeth Darkly entered the court room, all eyes fell on her. She looked beautiful in a fitted blue dress; her hair piled high on her head and held in place with a decorated clip. She walked calmly to the judge’s bench and, having been sworn in, took her place on the witness stand, in the seat beside him. Elizabeth did her best to avoid looking at Morgan Kramer, seated just a few feet away, or at his men sitting behind him.
“Good morning, Mrs Darkly,” the judge said with a smile.
“Good morning, your honour.” She flashed him a dazzling smile in return.
“Mr Henderson would you care to ask your first question?” The attorney stood up, giving Elizabeth a smarmy smile of his own, as he approached her.
Hannibal Heyes paced back and forth in Lom’s hotel room. Kid sat by the window keeping a watchful eye on the street below. He cast a glance at his friend and smiled.
“You’re gonna wear a hole in the carpet if you keep that up,” he remarked.
Heyes reached the door and paused. He placed both hands on the door and leaned against it.
“I hafta know what’s going on in that courtroom,” he announced.
“Why? She’s not on trial.”
“Yes, but is this going to be the end of it, or what?”
“The end of what?”
“Elizabeth being in danger.” He turned to face Kid.
“Well there’s a whole lotta lawmen in that courtroom, Heyes. If they can’t protect her…” He left the rest unsaid. His partner gave a sigh.
“I guess you’re right.” His expression was serious. He stretched and arched his back; a sudden thought came to him. “So what did she mean, I’ll tell him what you did?”
Kid looked at the floor. He knew this moment would come, he just hadn’t been expecting it now.
“Well?” Heyes prompted.
“It was nothing.”
“So, something did happen?”
Kid looked at his friend, embarrassed.
“It was just the heat of the moment. She’d found me tied to…Well we’d just made it out of the path of a train and…” Heyes waited, saying nothing to help his friend. “It had been a close call. We were just grateful to be alive. When she kissed me I…Well I…I responded.”
Kid shifted uncomfortably under his friend’s scrutiny.
“Yeah, I responded.”
“Just how much did you respond?”
“I only kissed her!” Sheesh we didn’t do anything else. And then you turned up.”
“Stopped you before it was too late huh?” Heyes did his best to hide his growing amusement.
“NO!” Heyes raised his eyebrows. “I mean, nothing happened. I’d already stopped it and…” he noticed a slight curling at the side of Heyes’ mouth. “It wasn’t funny Heyes.”
“Don’t worry Kid, I’m not gonna call you out.” A broad grin broke out on the dark-haired man’s face. Kid gave him a sideways glance. “She’s quite something ain’t she?”
“Yeah, yes she is,” his friend agreed with a smile.
“There’s just one thing…”
“What were you tied to?”
“You said she found you tied to…and then you stopped.”
“I was just tied up.”
“But to what?” Heyes could see how reluctant his partner was. “Come on Kid, you owe me an explanation. Heck you were kissing my girl.”
“I wasn’t…” But he had been. Two blue eyes looked up. “They tied me to the railway tracks.”
“Like in the dime novels?”
“Like a damsel in distress?”
Kid didn’t reply.
“Did you squeeeem and squeeem, real hard?”
“It wasn’t funny! I coulda been killed. I was unconscious. When I woke up…Then Elizabeth found me.”
“Elizabeth found you?” This was a new source of amusement for the dark-haired man.
“Tied to the tracks?”
Heyes placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder.
“Oh Kid…I’m not sure what was worse for you.” He smiled.
“You’re not gonna let me forget this are you?” Kid asked him, somewhat rhetorically.
Kid gave a heavy sigh. After a few moments enjoying his friend’s discomfort, Heyes began to pace again. Kid returned his gaze to the street, feeling decidedly uneasy by the number of men with stars pinned to their chests he saw walking by.
The jury didn’t need long to reach a verdict. Having heard several witness statements, they retired over lunch to consider the evidence, returning just after one pm to the courtroom. A hushed silence fell as they verdict was delivered.
“Well?” Heyes asked when Lom and Elizabeth finally returned.
“Guilty,” Lom announced. He didn’t add that Kramer was already on the train heading for prison. That wasn’t something he felt appropriate to discuss with his friends, especially since that very threat hung over them every day. However, the men in charge had thought it wisest to get the prisoner out of town and on his way before anyone could come up with an escape plan.
Elizabeth sank into the armchair beside the bed. She gave a heavy sigh. It was over at last.
“What happens now?” she asked.
Heyes crouched beside her.
“Now, we get to have a little fun,” he said, dimples appearing on his face as he smiled.
Kid looked across at Lom and rolled his eyes.
When the Marshals had left town and Lom considered it safe to travel, a pleasant train journey took them all back to Porterville. For once they travelled without incident.
Lom had found them a cabin not far from town where they could rest up while he paid a visit to the Governor. It had once been part of a small homestead but was now used as a store or spare bunkhouse for the ranch the land became part of. Out there, no one would question two men staying alone with a woman. Elizabeth would head back East once Lom returned. She was as anxious as her companions to know what the Governor would say this time. Surely helping to protect a valuable witness in a major trail would count for something?
Kid sat in a chair on the front porch. He had one foot on the porch rail, the chair tilted back on two legs. He sipped on a steaming cup of coffee as he rocked the chair, gently back and forth. After everything they’d been through it was nice to finally relax. Kid smiled. Heck neither of them had been shot either. Not bad for an encounter with Elizabeth Darkly. His eyes scanned the surrounding terrain, casually and he gave a contented sigh.
Hannibal Heyes stepped through the doorway onto the porch. He looked extremely pleased with himself as he stretched and then straightened his vest, tucking one corner of his shirt into his pants, as he did so. Looking across at his partner, Kid smiled.
“Everything all right with you and Elizabeth?” he asked, knowingly.
“Just fine.” He let out a sigh of contentment. “Just fine.”
“You’ve got rouge on your cheek,” Kid told him, pointing to his own face, helpfully. Heyes smiled again and brushed the powder off his cheek. Yep, everything was just fine between him and Mrs. Darkly. Just fine. Now if Lom came back from his meeting with the Governor, with good news, everything would be perfect. The sheriff was expected any day now. Heyes turned to say something to his friend but Kid’s eyes narrowed, focussing on the distant horizon. Kid returned the chair returned to four legs.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, maybe nothing.” Kid stood up, emptying the remains of his coffee onto the ground.
“Is it Lom?”
“Not sure, could be. I’ll go check on the horses. The coffee’s fresh if you want some.”
“Thanks.” Heyes watched him descend the three short steps and set off towards the corral. Kid was ever watchful and he was grateful for that. It had kept them alive all these years. Maybe now he could relax for a while. The dark-haired man looked around. He could see nothing out of the ordinary. Hopefully it was the sheriff returning with good news. He saw Kid freeze. Sunlight glinted off something in the hills above them. Eyes narrowed, Kid focussed on the rocks, watching. He drew his gun to check it was loaded; he knew Heyes wasn’t wearing his.
“Heyes I think you sho…” A single gunshot cut off Kid’s words. A searing pain screamed through his right thigh and he dropped to his knees, as his leg gave way beneath him.
“KID!” Heyes cried, taking a step forward. Another shot rang out and Kid jerked backwards. “NO!” Heyes yelled. Descending the steps he ran towards his friend, his eyes on the gun at Kid’s side. Kid lay on the ground obviously in pain, one bloody hand clasped to his left shoulder. A third shot filled the air and Heyes felt agonising pain almost cut him in two. The force of the bullet striking his body propelled him backwards into the dust.
Elizabeth ran out onto the porch carrying Heyes’ gun. She stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth open in horror, when she saw the two men lying on the ground. Horses were approaching fast from the left. A shot hit the door frame as she turned to go inside.
“Hold it right there ma’am!” a man’s voice called. She stopped. Several men rode into the clearing. One man jumped down from the saddle and strode towards the men lying on the ground. Kid reached out a bloody hand trying to retrieve his gun. Sneering at him the man bent down and picked up the Colt. For one terrifying moment, Kid thought he would turn it on him. Two blue eyes fixed the stranger with a glare. Instead the man was joined by another and they strode purposefully onto the porch. Catching hold of Elizabeth’s arms they dragged her towards the horses.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” she protested but they ignored her and she was outnumbered. Elizabeth cast a worried glance at the men lying on the ground. Kid was clearly in agony, but Heyes lay ominously quiet. His eyes followed her but he could do nothing to help, as if all his concentration was on trying to remain conscious. Two brown eyes followed her onto the horse. She gave him an encouraging smile. The man who had taken Kid’s gun climbed up behind her, his hands rough about her waist, his breath foul. Without another word the men turned their horses and rode away from the cabin. Elizabeth looked back, one last time, at the men she cared so much about.
“Heyes?” Kid rasped but there was no reply. “Heyes?” Kid called louder, this time. Still there was nothing. He closed his eyes against the pain and the brightness of the sun overhead. Kid twisted his head around, trying to see his friend behind him. He grimaced and put his hand to his shoulder. His own warm blood flowed through his fingers. He took a deep breath.
“What?” came the weak reply and Kid smiled.
“I don’t know.”
Heyes lifted his hand from his waist and looked at the blood covering his palm.
Using his left leg to push himself, Kid shuffled along the ground towards his partner. He left a trail of blood in the dirt as he did so. Kid turned his head, catching a glimpse of his friend’s blood covered shirt. He pushed himself closer.
“Heyes? Heyes?” This time, there was no reply.
TO BE CONTINUED…