A Bad Couple of Days

A Bad Couple of Days

By Maz McCoy

Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry sat on the porch outside the saloon. It was a bright sunny day and they sat watching the people going about their business on the main street of the small town of Valentine. Each man smoked a cigar, slowly breathing out a cloud of smoke. Kid Curry had his feet up on the hitching rail, his chair tilted back on two legs, rocking gently. Hannibal Heyes blew out another long trail of smoke and a sigh followed.

“You know Kid, I could get used to this,” he said to his blond-haired partner, who nodded in agreement. “Things are going real good for us at the moment. We’ve got money in our pockets, the sheriff has no idea who we are and …” Kid’s chair returned sharply to four legs.

“Heyes, if you say one more thing to jinx this I will flatten ya,” Kid Curry interrupted the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang, fixing him with an icy blue stare. The dark-haired man gave his partner a hurt look.

“What d’you mean? I’m not going to say anything to jinx this. I’m not gonna say ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ or anything. I jus’ mean our luck has been good for a while, things are peaceful for once and they look like they’re gonna stay that way too, leastways for a bit. You should be pleased and…” he stopped speaking as he noticed his partner was no longer listening to him. The blond man was watching a young woman, across the street, as she struggled with several packages. She was in her early twenties with mousey brown hair. She had fairly plain features and was holding the top parcel on the pile, in place, with her chin. She searched for the edge of the step with her foot.

Hannibal Heyes knew what was coming next. As he expected Kid got up and walked across the street. He tipped his hat to the young woman and she smiled at him, somewhat shyly, her long brown hair covering part of her face. Her name was Alice McCloskey. Heyes watched as his partner took the packages from her, and she led the way towards a buckboard. Kid placed the packages in the back and then followed Alice around to the front. He held out a hand, which she took, and helped her up onto the seat. They exchanged a few words and the young woman blushed, not used to having such a handsome young man pay her so much attention.

Heyes watched his partner making another woman’s day, by his kind actions, but then his smile faded as two scruffy looking men walked along the boardwalk towards the buckboard. The men stopped dead in their tracks having noticed the blond-haired man holding Alice’s hand. They quickened their pace. One of the men placed a hand on Kid’s shoulder and he turned to face them. Heyes saw his partner’s expression change from the sweet smile he had given the woman to one of patient resignation. Hannibal Heyes stood up and extinguished his cigar. What had Kid said about jinxing things? Now who was going to flatten who?

“What d’ya think yer doing?” the older of the two men asked. His name was Frank McCloskey and he was a few years older than Kid. His lined face and dark eyes suggested he had led a hard life. His clothes were worn and dusty, his hands callused and his eyes tired. Kid Curry was being very patient with the man.

“I was jus’ helpin’ the young lady with her packages,” he told the two men who stood facing him.

“Is that what you call it?” the younger man, Frank’s brother Thomas, asked. His lank blond hair was hidden under a brown hat. He was skinny and as dusty and tired looking as his brother.

“Well, that’s what I was doin’,” Kid said.

“Ya had yer hands on m’sister,” Frank McCloskey stated.

“I was helpin’ her up, that’s all.” Kid noticed the men moved to stand side by side, each with their hands hanging by their guns. Neither man wore his gun tied down. Kid sighed heavily. When he spoke, he used his patient voice. “Look, I just helped your sister carry some parcels and made sure she…” but the first man did not let Kid finish.

“Ya had yer hands on m’sister. I don’t like that and I don’t like yer attitude mister,” he told the man before him.

“Well, I’m sorry about that but I meant no offence,” Kid told him honestly.

“Well ya sure caused some,” Thomas, told him. Kid turned to the young woman.

“I’m sorry ma’am, did I offend you?” he asked but she looked at her feet and did not reply. Alice was clearly afraid of her two brothers.

“Don’t care what she says,” the older McCloskey told him. “I say ya offended her and I want…”

“Somethin’ wrong gentlemen?” Heyes asked coming up behind them. The two men turned, realising now, that they no longer out numbered the blond man. Both men noted that the dark-haired man wore his gun tied down, just like the man who had touched their sister. “My partner was just helpin’ the young lady with her parcels. Is there anythin’ wrong with that?” The men consider the situation. They were no longer sure they could win this argument and there was a man on either side of them, carrying a gun he looked as if he could use.

“Come on Tom,” Frank said. “Let’s get outta here.” He stared at Kid, a hardness in his eyes, telling the blond man , that Frank McCloskey was not happy . “You stay away from her or this ain’t the last you’ll see of us,” he warned.

The two men climbed up onto the wagon squeezing their sister between them. She looked uncomfortable and gave Kid a slight grateful smile before looking quickly away. The older McCloskey took the reins and they moved off.

Kid watched them go and Heyes watched his partner.

“What was it you were sayin’ Kid?” the dark-haired man asked. “Somethin’ about flattenin’ me if I did anythin’ to jinx our comfortable time here in Valentine?” His partner looked at him, knowing what Heyes was implying.

“Say whatcha hafta Heyes.”

“Just wondered if it worked both ways? Cos I’m ready to flatten ya right now.” He gave his partner a patient smile which did not reach his eyes , masking his real feelings.

“Look Heyes I didn’t do anythin’ wrong. I jus’ helped her carry some packages. Jus’ did what a gentleman should; what we was raised to do,” Kid said defiantly and proudly.

“Yeah, well, your need to be a gentleman has got us into trouble more than once.”

“Meanin’?”

“Meanin’…” Then Heyes saw the challenging and hurt look in his partner’s blue eyes. He couldn’t be angry any longer. Heyes shook his head. “Meanin’ nothin’. Just be careful who you help, will ya?” He put his arm across his partner’s shoulders and felt Kid relax.

“C’mon, I’ll buy you a drink,” Heyes said and they headed for the saloon.

***

Hannibal Heyes looked at his cards, and then looked over the top of them to the man sitting opposite him. It was one of the men they had met this afternoon; a man he now knew as Frank McCloskey.

“Call,” Heyes said and waited for the next man at the table to make his decision. The other men gradually threw in their cards until it was only Hannibal Heyes and Frank McCloskey left. With a smile that told Heyes, he was sure he had the winning hand; McCloskey laid his cards face up on the table. Two sevens and two sixes.

“Two pair,” McCloskey said smugly. He started to reach towards the pot but Heyes stopped him. Smiling, equally as confident, Heyes placed his cards on the table. McCloskey’s dark eyes looked at them and his smile faded. Heyes had placed down three jacks.

“Three of a kind,” Heyes stated, and reached towards the money in the centre of the table.

“Now wait a minute,” McCloskey said. “Somethin’s wrong here.” The other men at the table tensed, sensing the possibility of trouble, when McCloskey was around.

“What’s wrong?” Heyes asked calmly.

“I won that hand,” the man stated.

“I think you’ll find ‘three of a kind’ beats ‘two pair’,” Heyes told him.

“But where did that third jack come from? That’s what I want to know,” McCloskey told him. The other men slowly moved their chairs back from the table as the saloon fell silent. Heyes gave no sign of being the least bit concerned. Inside his head, he was working out the possible ways to successfully end the argument.

“Sounds like, you think I was cheatin’,” Heyes said. The other men moved further back. McCloskey pushed his chair back.

“Too right I do,” he stated. “Whatcha got ta say about that?”

“Only that I wasn’t cheatin’ and if you’d been watching the cards, you’d know that.” Heyes turned to the other men at the table. “Do any of you gentlemen think I was cheatin’?” No one wanted to say anything but two men shook their heads slightly.

“They got nothin’ to say. I guess they don’t believe ya,” Frank McCloskey stated.

“Well, I think the cards speak for themselves…”

“But I don’t. I say ya was cheatin’ and that’s my money in the pot. So just how far ya willin’ to go to claim it?” Heyes looked at the man, meeting his dark eyes.

“Somethin’ wrong Joshua?” a familiar voice asked. Kid Curry walked around the table to stand behind his partner.

“No, Thaddeus,” Heyes said, suppressing a smile at Kid’s approach. “This gentleman was jus’ about to tell me why he thought I was cheatin’.”

“I know ya was cheatin’.” McCloskey assured him.

“Can you back that up?” Kid Curry asked.

“Can yer friend?” the other man asked, pushing his chair further back.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” Heyes stated.

“Too late now, ya got trouble, boy.”

“If my friend says he doesn’t want any trouble, then that’s what he means,” Kid told him and everyone heard the subtle change in his tone.

“Stay outta this; it’s between me and him.” McCloskey told Kid.

“Not when you accuse my partner of cheatin’ it ain’t.” Kid told him.

“Ya just can’t keep outta other people’s business can ya? First m’sister, now this game. Well, I tell ya what. Ya want trouble ya got it.” McCloskey stood up. “Ya can get out now and leave me and yer friend here to sort this out or we’ll see how much of a man ya really are, cos I’m fed up with yer talkin’. What’s it to be?” His eyes fixed on Kid.

“I was just helpin’ your sister this afternoon,” Kid told the man. He slowly removed the glove from his right hand. He looked at the man as he did so, not taking his gaze from the other man’s eyes. Heyes saw what Kid was doing.

“Thaddeus, we don’t want any trouble,” Heyes said quietly but it had gone too far. Kid did not answer him, instead he spoke to McCloskey.

“An’ I know my partner doesn’t cheat at poker. He don’t have to, he’s too good at it.” He tucked the glove into his gun belt. “So, like I told you, I don’t want any trouble, maybe we can sort this out peaceable like.”

“Well ya got trouble boy. So what’s it to be?” The man stared at Kid, watching, waiting, oozing confidence. Then he went for his gun, only to hear gasps and whistles of amazement. Kid Curry had his gun in his hand before Frank McCloskey’s had even cleared his holster. McCloskey was dumbstruck as he realised what might have been, had the blond man pulled the trigger.

“Now, I told you I don’t want any trouble, and neither does my partner. So why don’t you take what’s left of your money, and leave.” It was not a question. The older man glared at Kid, not happy at being humiliated in front of people he knew, but equally glad to be alive. His eyes were still on Kid as he picked up his money and stormed out of the saloon. When he was convinced no one else was going to stand up to him, Kid slowly lowered his gun. As others in the saloon watched him, he unconsciously twirled his gun twice, and dropped it neatly into its holster.

Hannibal Heyes picked up his winnings, pushed back his chair and joined his partner at the bar as Kid ordered two whiskies and asked the bar tender to leave the bottle.

“Thanks,” Heyes said and Kid passed him a drink. “Where were you?”

“Around,” Kid told him and then his face broke into a smile. “Always got my eye on your back Joshua, you know that.” He slapped his friend across the back and Heyes relaxed and smiled at last. Just as soon, he turned serious again.

“I coulda handled it, ya know,” Heyes said.

“Of course ya could,” Kid told him.

“Not every situation hasta be solved with a fast draw.”

“I know that,” Kid acknowledged.

“I don’t want ya t’think I couldn’t have dealt with ‘im.”

“I don’t.”

“Of course, I’m really grateful for you steppin’ in the way ya did.”

“My pleasure, Heyes,” Kid said and Heyes was quiet, but Kid knew there was something eating at his partner.

“You know you don’t hafta put yourself in the firin’ line for me every time.” Kid let out a long breath. Now Heyes was getting to what was really bothering him.

“I know,” Kid told him.

“I don’t want you gettin’ hurt on my…” Kid held up a hand.

“Drop it Heyes. It’s okay. It’s dealt with.”

“Okay Kid, but even so…”

“Heyes, shut up before I wish I’d let him shoot ya.” He raised his eyebrows at his partner and Heyes had the sense to realise, no more needed to be said. He smiled and Kid poured him another drink. “Here,” he said handing it to the dark-haired man.

“Thanks,” Heyes said and then was quiet for a while.

“I guess we’ve outstayed our welcome now,” he stated sadly.

“Yeah, I guess we have,” Kid agreed. “Shame, it’s a nice town. If only you hadn’t said so this afternoon.”

“Me? If you hadn’t gone off to play the white knight once more we coulda stayed here for a lot longer.” Kid looked at Heyes, a little shocked.

“You didn’t expect me to sit by an’ see a lady strugglin’ did ya?”

“Knowin’ you Kid, no, and that’s jus’ the point. Do you have to be so predictable all the time?” Kid didn’t know what to say. He gave his partner an exasperated look and finished his drink.

“You finished here?” he asked and the dark-haired man shook his head.

“Kid, I can win another couple of games, I know it. It would be a sin not to share my talents with these fine people, especially if we’re gonna hafta leave.” Kid nodded at Heyes’ overconfidence.

“D’you want me to stay?” he asked but his partner shook his head.

“I don’t expect any trouble now.”

“Okay, I’ll see you back at the hotel,” Kid told him and left Heyes as he returned to his seat at the table.

***

Kid Curry walked along the boardwalk, returning alone to the hotel. Lights burned in a few of the windows but the main street was empty except for a couple of horses tied to a hitching rail and a man asleep, on a seat outside the saloon.

“Hey!” a voice called from an alley and Frank McCloskey stepped out of the shadows and stood in front of him. Kid stood still, waiting to see what the man wanted. His gloves were still tucked in his gun belt so he was ready to draw should he need to. “I want a word with ya,” McCloskey told him.

“I thought we’d said all we had to,” Kid told him.

“You, maybe. Me? I’m not finished with ya.” The man ran a hand over his developing stubble and smiled. A heavy blow hit Kid across the back of his shoulders and stunned, he fell to the ground. Another blow caught him at the side of his head and, before he had the chance to regain his senses, he was dragged into the alley as a voice said, “Time for a little payback.”

***

Hannibal Heyes was feeling pleased with himself, and he had a definite spring in his step, as he took the hotel stairs two at a time. There was money in his pocket and, if he and Kid had to leave Valentine, at least they would do so with a good stake to support them. Reaching their room, Heyes turned the handle and found the door locked. He knocked on the door.

“Thaddeus, open up,” he called but there was no reply. Maybe Kid was asleep. He banged harder on the door, raising his voice. “Thaddeus, it’s me, Open the door.” Again, there was no reply. After several more attempts to get his partner to open up, Hannibal Heyes reached into his boot and, removed a lock pick. Bending down he examined the key hole and unlocked the door. The room was in darkness as Heyes entered. He found his way to the washstand, struck a match, and lit the lantern that stood on it.

“Kid?” As the room was slowly illuminated, Heyes turned to the bed, expecting to see his partner asleep, but the room was empty. There was no sign that Kid had ever returned.

Now the ex-outlaw leader was concerned. There was no reason that Heyes could think of, why his partner should not be in the room now. It was not like Kid to go off without telling him where he was going. Heyes went down to the hotel reception. The smartly dressed clerk was a small bald man with a pencil-thin moustache. He looked up, eager to help, as Hannibal Heyes approached the desk.

“Can I help sir?” he asked hopefully.

“Has my partner been back tonight?” Heyes asked. “Blond man, curly hair, about my height?”

“I know him sir. He hasn’t been back, not since you both went out earlier this evening’,” the desk clerk told him politely. Keys hung on a row of hooks on the wall behind him. The clerk turned and removed a key. “Do you want your key?” Heyes took it but did not return to the room. Instead, he went out onto the boardwalk and looked up and down the street searching for any sign of his partner. If they had not had a run in with McCloskey he would not have been quite so worried. Heyes went back to the hotel room, looked around and, finding no clue as to Kid’s whereabouts, he left, locking the door behind him.

Heyes retraced his steps to the saloon but the bartender told him his partner had not been back. Heyes wondered where he should look next. The last time Kid had gone missing like this he’d been found in the middle of nowhere by a sheriff. Hannibal Heyes hoped things were not repeating themselves.

Kid might have gone to check on the horses. It was unlikely but he decided to check it out, just in case, and he couldn’t think of anything else to do. When Heyes reached the livery stable, he found it locked up for the night. He leaned his back against the door, crossed his arms over his chest, and looked along the main street, hoping for inspiration. The sound of a piano carried from the saloon and a couple of drunken cowboys were weaving their way across the street towards the hotel. Apart from that, all was quiet in Valentine. Heyes walked slowly back towards the hotel giving each alley he passed a cursory glance.

It was as he looked into the alley nearest the saloon, that he noticed the hat. It was a floppy, brown cowboy hat with a buckle band. Heyes bent down and picked up the hat. It was Kid’s hat, there was no mistaking it. The alley was deserted. A torrent of thoughts went through his mind but all of them told him one thing. Kid was in trouble and he had no idea where he was.

The only people they knew in town, who might wish them harm, were the McCloskey brothers. Hannibal Heyes went back to the saloon and walked up to the bar. He beckoned the bar tender over. Harry Fellows was a personable sort, with a long black moustache and a large waistline that hung over the top of his pants. He stood before Heyes wiping the inside of a glass wondering what the dark-haired man wanted now.

“Harry, those men my partner and I had trouble with this evening…” he began.

“The McCloskey brothers?”

Heyes nodded.

“Where would I find ‘em?”

“You don’t want to go messin’ with them, you saw what they’re like and they ain’t worth the time…” But then Harry saw the look on the young man’s face. “They got a cabin outside of town. Work an old silver mine and do a bit o’trappin’. Gotta ‘nother sister too, lives out along the river.”

“Can you give me directions? To the cabin?” Heyes asked and the man nodded although it was obvious he thought the man before him was just asking for trouble.

***

Kid Curry slowly opened his eyes. It was dark but he couldn’t see the sky. He shifted and found his hands were tied behind his back but his feet were free. He shuffled about. He was inside, but inside what? There was a damp and dusty smell in the air. His head hurt, his jaw ached and he thought he was going to be sick. Other than that, he was having a great day. Kid tried to sit up and failed. He wriggled about some more and eventually raised himself to a sitting position and rested his back against a dirt wall. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, there was just enough light for him to make out the walls of a tunnel. He appeared to be in some sort of mine workings. The tunnel was supported by occasional wooden beams, some of which did not look strong enough to hold up the rock above them. Kid leaned back against the wall waiting for his head to stop spinning as he remembered the McCloskey brothers beating him up. He remembered laughter, the smell of whiskey, the feel of a fist on his face but no more after that. He could feel dried blood around his nose and mouth and his left eye felt a little swollen.

Kid tried to free his wrists but the bindings were tight. He continued to work on them even though they made his wrists sore. The cords became damp and he knew that his wrists were probably bleeding. He did not feel he had made any headway with the leather, so gave it a rest. There was a faint breeze coming from his left, which suggested the direction of the tunnel’s entrance. If he could get to his feet, he could walk out of the tunnel. Heyes was never going to let him hear the last of this. He’d told him to stay out of trouble; not to get involved and what had he done? It was then, that he heard someone or something moving about up ahead of him.

***

Hannibal Heyes rode towards the cabin at the mine, following the route Harry had described, and then he turned his horse away from the path into the trees. Heyes climbed down from the saddle and led the horse slowly along a track until he could see the cabin. Heyes tied the reins to a tree and crept slowly towards the clearing. From his vantage point, Heyes surveyed the McCloskey’s homestead and the entrance to the mine.

There was no one around. No horses tied to the hitching rail outside the small wooden cabin; no tell tale wisp of smoke rising from the stone chimney, no just-washed clothes hanging from the line. He crept closer, staying within the cover of the trees. Still there was no sign that the camp was occupied. When he reached the edge of the trees Heyes waited a few moments and then moved into the open. He checked out the cabin first. The door was unlocked and inside, in the main room, he found three wooden chairs around a small table, a rusty looking stove, a few cans of beans on a single wooden shelf, a couple of worn books about silver mining, neither of which he had read and a few pots and pans.

Heyes examined the two rooms at the back. One clearly belonged to Alice McCloskey. There were a few wild flowers, in a vase on the stand beside the bed, and a picture of a dress had been cut from a catalogue wish book and tacked to the wall. The other room was her brothers’. There was a gun belt, minus the gun, in the middle of one bed; laying as if it had been thrown there. Heyes picked it up. It had a few scratches and marks on it, familiar scratches and marks. This was Kid’s gun belt.

Just the feel of something so indicative of his partner brought a lump to his throat. He doubted Kid had removed it voluntarily. Heyes remembered the arguments he had had with his partner over wearing his gun and how Kid always complained that he felt ‘nekkid’ without it. There was that time with Joe Briggs… Heyes had been so proud of Kid for not drawing on the man sooner. God knows Briggs deserved it for making Kid do that jig. How many times had he watched his partner buckle the gun belt and how many times had he hoped he would not have to use the gun it carried? Hoping he wouldn’t be called out by some drunken cowhand trying to make a reputation for himself by taking on Kid Curry? If Kid wasn’t wearing it, Heyes doubted it was by choice. Heyes put the belt over his shoulder and headed towards the door.

Where was Kid? Leaving the cabin, he looked around and walked towards the entrance to the mine. The opening was surrounded by a crumbling wooden frame. Heyes stepped into the entrance of the tunnel and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There was only so far that he could go without a lantern. Looking around, he found one hanging from a hook. Heyes shook it and discovered it still had some oil in it. Striking a match, he lit the lantern. Holding it out in front of him, he ventured further into the tunnel. It was cooler inside, and on the floor, things lay scattered and abandoned. There was a hammer, some discarded nails, pieces of timber and an old bucket. A few cobwebs hung above his head. If the McCloskey’s were working the mine, they did not appear to be working it very hard. The air had a damp smell to it and there was something else, something even less pleasant, as if an animal had crawled in and died. Up ahead, Heyes saw a shape slumped against the wall. The shape moved.

“Thaddeus?” he called out holding the lantern higher, trying to illuminate the shape further. There was no reply. “Thaddeus? Kid?”

“Heyes? That you?” a familiar voice called back. Quickening his pace, Hannibal Heyes was soon at his partner’s side. Kid was sitting with his back to the wall and in the glow of the lantern, Heyes saw his partner’s beaten face.

“Looks like they worked you over real good. You okay?” Heyes asked, clearly concerned.

“Yeah, I guess. You should see it from this side,” Kid suggested giving his partner a smile, which quickly faded, as it pulled at bruised muscles.

Putting down the lantern Heyes untied the blond man’s wrists, noticing as he did so the bloody marks where the rawhide had cut into his flesh. Kid groaned as the leather cords were finally removed. Kid Curry looked down at his bloody wrists.

“We have to get those cleaned and covered up,” his dark-haired partner said, removing his bandana from around his neck. “What happened?” he asked as he tied the cloth around Kid’s right wrist, which appeared to be the most bloody and raw.

“I got jumped on the way back to the hotel. The McCloskey brothers,” Kid told him as he gingerly touched his swollen eye and cheek. He groaned as he moved and put a hand to his bruised ribs.

“Say how’d you find me?” Kid suddenly asked and his partner raised his eyebrows and gave him a look. “Stupid question. Thanks for coming for me.”

“Well, I’m not going to abandon the man who watches my back, am I?” Heyes told him helping his partner to his feet. Kid was a little unsteady as the blood rushed to his head and he put a hand on the wall to support himself. It was then he noticed his gun belt over Heyes shoulder. The dark-haired man handed it too him. “No gun I’m afraid. I got your hat on my horse. Found it in the alley.”

“’ppreciate that Heyes,” Kid smiled and then winced again as he buckled the belt around his waist. A growl from somewhere in the darkness of the tunnel stopped both men in their tracks. They stood in silence; listening. The growl came again.

“I assume that wasn’t your stomach?” Heyes said and his blond partner gave his head a slight shake. The growl grew louder and a snuffling could be heard. “Let’s get outta here,” Heyes suggested unnecessarily and both men moved swiftly towards the tunnel’s exit.

They did not want to run in case the animal, which sounded to them both like a bear, started to chase them. As they reached the tunnel’s entrance there was enough light for Heyes to look back. It was a bear, a grizzly bear, with a scruffy brown coat and a long muzzle. It didn’t look pleased and it was following them. It was not the biggest grizzly they had ever seen; it looked like an adolescent one. However, it was still large enough to be treated with respect, and big enough to kill them. Both men knew that you weren’t supposed to run from a bear, it was just real hard not to. They were hoping that it had just been disturbed by their presence and would wander off the minute it was outside.

They backed slowly away. The bear lumbered forwards sniffing the air as it did so. It fixed them with a stare and bared its teeth at them, snorting a couple of times. Once free of the tunnel the large animal broke into a trot, homing in on Heyes. The bear was closing the ground on the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang. As his partner moved backwards fast, Kid Curry tried to distract it.

“Hey! Hey!” he called and for a moment, the bear looked at the blond man. Heyes drew his gun, ready to fire a warning shot and took another quick step backwards. His expression changed to one of surprise. His arms flailing in the air, he seemed to be falling and then he disappeared into the undergrowth. Kid heard crashing in the bushes but had no time to see what had happened to his friend.

The bear was now looking menacingly at Kid Curry. Searching around, Kid saw a pick axe leaning against the rocks at one side of the tunnel’s entrance. He edged towards it; the bear watched the man’s movements. With teeth bared, the large animal let out another growl and saliva dripped from its mouth. Kid could not avoid noticing how large the bear’s canine teeth were and what huge front paws it had. The carnivore was hungry and Kid Curry looked like a sizable meal to a bear in need of food. The grizzly picked up speed and charged at Kid. The gunslinger reached for the nearest weapon. Clasping the wooden handle tight in his grip, he swung the axe, as the bear made its final lunge. Kid felt the axe make contact with solid ursine muscle. It penetrated deep in the animal’s side with a sickening thud.

The bear let out a guttural howl and fell on the blond man, its claws lashing out at him; together they went crashing to the ground. Kid struggled frantically under the heavy weight of muscle and fur; desperate to get away from the thrashing claws and the teeth that were snapping so close to his face. As he pulled himself free, he watched the bear collapse as it took its last breath, the axe imbedded deep in its left side. Kid Curry felt no satisfaction at the animal’s demise. He sat back, breathing heavily, watching to make sure the animal was no longer moving. It was then that he felt the searing pain in his right side and looking down saw the rip in his shirt beneath the tan leather vest he wore. Gently he moved the fabric to one side and saw three long gashes in his flesh where some of the bear’s claws had caught him. Despite the pain telling him contrary, the scratches were not too deep. They looked a mess but were hopefully not life threatening. He’d been as lucky as you can be, when you’ve been attacked by a grizzly bear.

Convinced the bear was no longer a danger; Kid pulled himself to his feet, wincing as he did so and went to find his partner.

“Heyes?” the young blond man called, venturing further into the undergrowth where the ex-outlaw had disappeared. His foot slipped and Kid Curry grabbed a branch to prevent himself from tumbling down a steep incline. The slope was hidden by the bushes and he now realised his partner must have fallen. Kid peered carefully down the hill searching for any sign of his dark-haired friend. At the bottom of the slope, in a dry gully, a figure lay motionless.

“Heyes?” Kid said. “Oh, no.”

Kid Curry eased himself down the slope using the branches of trees and bushes to prevent him from falling. Kid cursed as he lost his footing several times, sending an avalanche of small stones clattering down the slope ahead of him. He grabbed frantically at branches or rocks to stop himself falling in the same way as his partner. Kid reached the still figure. Heyes was lying on his stomach, one arm under his body, his clothes dusty and covered in twigs and leaves. Kid was afraid to move his friend in case he was badly hurt but there was no way to assess his injuries without turning him.

“Heyes? Heyes, can you hear me?” Kid asked hopefully, laying a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. The dark-haired man groaned and Kid let out a sigh of relief. “Heyes?”

Hannibal Heyes moved slightly and turned his head. Kid Curry saw the blood across his partner’s temple. “Take it easy, you had a nasty fall.”

“The bear?” Heyes asked groggily.

“It’s dead,” Kid stated flatly. “Where you hurt?”

“Everywhere,” the dark-haired man stated definitely. He looked up the hill noticing the trees, shrubs, rocks and bushes he must have fallen through or over. “You know Kid, as I was tumbling down here…”

“Let me guess,” Kid interrupted. “The floor plan to the Bank of Fort Worth?” he grinned at his partner as he waited for his answer.

“Yeah,” Heyes smiled back. “Exactly.” Heyes thought for a moment and then looking at Kid said. “You killed a bear?” Heyes pulled himself up on his hands. Kid helped him, watching his partner’s movements, looking for any sign of injuries. Heyes’ vision looked a little shaky.

“Yeah, I killed a bear,” Kid said as his friend sat back on his heels. Heyes looked at his partner through unfocussed eyes as blood, from the cut, ran down his face. Kid removed his bandana and wiped the blood away from Heyes’ eye. The dark-haired man flinched and took the bandana from his partner. He dabbed gently at the cut on his temple whilst still looking at his young cousin.

“You killed a grizzly bear, but you’re unarmed,” Heyes stated with admiration. Kid looked at his partner, noticing his expression.

“What?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Kid, you killed a grizzly bear,” Heyes was clearly thinking about this.

“Yeah, I know,” Kid told him, not real happy about having to kill such a magnificent animal.

“Can I call you Grizz Curry?” Heyes asked. He was still a little woozy and gave his partner a lopsided smile.

“Not if you want to live,” Kid told him. “C’mon.” He helped his partner to his feet and the dark-haired man swayed as he tried to get his balance. He did not notice Kid wince as he helped him. Heyes groaned and touched his head. His eyes were still a little glazed. Apart from the blood, which still flowed freely from the cut on his temple, and a few bruises and scratches, he appeared pretty much in one piece, with no bones broken. Kid then bent down to pick up Heyes’ black hat, which had fallen into a bush, not far away. He hit it against his leg a couple of times and a cloud of dust flew up. Kid handed it to his partner. Heyes looked at Kid and his partner gave him a reassuring smile. Heyes put the hat over his head and let it fall down his back, to hang by the strap, not wanting to put anything on his head at that time.

“Where’s your horse?” Kid asked, keeping an eye on his partner. He wasn’t sure how serious his head wound was.

“I left it in the trees, behind the cabin. Just in case anyone was about, but there was no one there,” Heyes explained as he dabbed at his temple. “I think I’ll need your help to get back up there.”

They heard the sound of horses above them and listened intently as the animals grew nearer. The two ex-outlaws crouched behind a bush waiting to see who was there.

After a few moments a voice called, “He ain’t here.”

Heyes mouthed, “Tom McCloskey?” and Kid nodded.

“What?” another voice asked. It was Frank. The partner’s looked at each other as they waited silently in the undergrowth below.

“I tell ya Frank, he ain’t here,” Tom told him.

“Well where the hell is he?” Frank asked.

“Frank! Frank! There’s a dead bear! He killed a bear! What kind of man kills a bear?” Tom’s voice revealed the twin emotions of shock and admiration. Heyes gave his partner a look that said I told you it was impressive. Kid shook his head dismissively.

“Find him Tom!” Frank said flatly. Heyes looked around and saw his gun lying in the dirt a few feet away. He went to pick it up but his head swam as he bent down and Kid steadied him. Seeing the object of his partner’s attention Kid picked up the Colt. He handed it to Heyes.

“You take it,” Heyes said. No explanation was needed. They both knew Kid was better with a gun and Heyes was still having trouble focussing. Kid checked it was fully loaded before slipping it into his holster. They heard more movement above them.

“C’mon,” Kid said leading his partner along the gully. Heyes stumbled a couple of times, and the blond man pulled him back to his feet or offered a hand to steady him. They moved quietly through the bushes, ever cautious in case they were spotted by the men above. Whenever they stopped, Kid noticed Heyes’ hand went to his head. His partner would not complain if it hurt but Kid knew that it did.

Kid Curry began to move up the hill heading back towards the cabin. Heyes followed keeping up as best he could. His arms and legs felt battered and bruised and his head hurt but he knew Kid was hurting too. His partner had not said much but Heyes had noticed him wincing and the way he favoured his right side. The McCloskey brothers had left enough marks on his cousin’s face for Heyes to realise Kid’s body had taken a beating too.

Kid looked back at his partner and knew he was struggling to keep up. He offered him a hand, which Heyes took gratefully. Kid pulled him up between two large boulders and they moved into the trees. The tree trunks and branches provided useful hand holds and they found it easier to climb here. As they drew near to the clearing, they heard the McCloskey brothers moving about. The two ex-outlaws kept low in the undergrowth watching the two men.

Frank McCloskey stood in the open doorway of the cabin. His face was a picture of fury. His brother, Tom, appeared from the tunnel; a gun on one hand and the leather bindings, which had been around Kid’s wrists, in the other.

“Found these,” he said as he held up the rawhide straps. “I don’t understand how he got loose Frank, cos they was my best knots. Hell ain’t nothin’ ever got outta them before.” Frank took the straps from the younger man and examining them.

“Looks like blood,” he stated.

“Yeah. Guess they weren’t so easy to get off after all,” Tom conceded. “Where’d ya think he’s gone?” Tom looked towards the trees. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry froze. The younger McCloskey brother appeared to be looking directly at them but clearly, he could not see them. They decided to keep it that way for as long as possible.

“Maybe the bear got ‘im first?” Tom suggested looking down at the body of the dead animal. Frank shook his head, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the bushes beyond the bear.

“Naw, he’s out there. I know it. I can smell ‘im.” He seemed to come to a decision. “Tom, get the rifles, we’re goin’ huntin’.” The younger man smiled at his brother then ran to where their horses were tied. He took a rifle from the saddle of each horse before returning to hand one to his brother. Frank McCloskey checked his rifle was loaded before heading towards the dead carnivore. He gave it a kick as he passed, calculating that the pelt would be worth a tidy sum. Maybe he should thank Mr. Jones when he found him; before he shot him. Then Frank looked at the ground around the dead creature, searching for tracks.

“This way,” he said and Tom followed him into the trees.

“C’mon,” Kid said pulling Heyes to his feet and out into the open. They covered the distance from the trees to the cabin as fast as they could, trying to make as little sound as possible. Heyes indicated where his horse should be and they set off again towards the distant trees. Kid noticed his partner was limping slightly on his left foot but he could do nothing about that now. Heyes stumbled and again his hand went to his head. Kid dragged him to his feet once more.

As they entered the shadowed safety of the trees, Kid stopped and looked back. So far, no one was following them. Now he let his partner lead the way. Heyes’ horse stood quietly chewing on some leaves, exactly where he had left it. The dark-haired man removed Kid’s hat from the saddle horn and handed it to him watching as the blond man settled it comfortably on his head. Talking gently to his horse, Heyes untied it and led the animal back along the path he had ridden in on. Both men kept an eye on the cabin and the trees beyond, as they crept away.

A sudden shot caught them both by surprise and they ducked as a bullet hit a tree trunk near Heyes’ head. The dark-haired man held the reins tighter as his horse tried to pull away, having been frightened by the noise. A second shot whizzed over Kid’s head.

“Ya see ‘em Frank?” Tom McCloskey asked his brother, in a loud voice, as they ran from the trees into the open.

“Got ‘em in ma sights, Tom,” the older man assured him, as he raised the rifle again.

Kid drew Heyes’ gun from his holster. He fired three well-aimed shots at the men and Frank and Tom dived for cover. Nodding to his partner, they set off again. When they reached a clearer part of the trail, Heyes stopped and leaned heavily against the horse, his eyes closed.

“Get on,” Kid said and the partners exchanged a look. Heyes nodded admitting that he could go no further on foot. The blond man gave his partner a boost into the saddle then pulled himself up behind him. Kid gave a gasp as he did so. The McCloskey’s beating and his encounter with the bear had left their marks in more ways than one.

“What’s wrong?” Hannibal Heyes asked over his shoulder.

“Just a little bruised,” Kid said dismissively, typically playing down his injuries. Heyes knew his partner too well to believe him. Kid was hurt but there was no time to argue about that now.

Together they urged the horse on. They moved quickly away from the mine, eager to put as much distance between themselves and the McCloskey’s as possible.

***

The McCloskey brother’s were not about to give up and were hot on their trail. Frank and Tom fired at the two men as they clung to the horse. Their shots went wide but were enough to spook the animal. The brother’s were slowly gaining on the ex-outlaws. Kid turned back and fired the last two bullets in Heyes’ gun, catching Tom McCloskey high in the shoulder. Heyes pulled the horse to a halt in a lightly wooded area, at the edge of a river and Kid slid quickly from the saddle. Having swiftly reloaded the gun, Kid found a vantage point behind a fallen tree. Heyes pulled the horse into the trees and crouched down beside his partner. The two ex-outlaws waited for the brothers to ride closer. Tom was slumped over the saddle but Frank rode ahead determined to catch the men who had just shot his brother and who he felt had humiliated him too many times. Kid fired twice, hitting first, the ground in front of the man’s horse, and then knocking Frank’s hat off with the second shot. Frank pulled his horse sharply to a halt as Kid called out to him.

“Hold it right there McCloskey!” The older man scoured the riverbank for the blond man. “Come any closer and I’ll shoot ya,” Kid assured him, from behind the fallen tree.

“And if he don’t, I will ,” Heyes told him.

“Now I suggest you get your brother home before he bleeds to death,” Kid said. Frank McCloskey looked quickly back at his brother Tom whose eyes were pleading with him to do what the men said. Frank glared at Heyes and Curry, telling both men, without the need for words, that this was not over. Frank turned his horse, grabbed the reins from Tom and, leading his brother’s horse, rode off. The two ex-outlaws watched them go.

Kid turned to face Heyes and was shocked to see how pale his partner looked. Heyes rested back against the tree trunk. His breathing was faster than it should be and sweat ran down his face. Kid Curry moved next to his friend. Heyes looked at his partner and gave him a weak smile.

“I don’t feel so good, Kid,” he said. “Head hurts. I feel real dizzy.” Kid looked around them. The McCloskey brothers had ridden off, they were near water and the trees provided shelter. They could camp there and give Heyes time to recover, although he clearly needed to see a doctor. He turned to ask his partner what he thought. Hannibal Heyes lay unconscious on the ground.

“Heyes?” there was concern and a momentary hint of panic in Kid’s voice. “Heyes?” he said gently as he examined his partner’s face. He was breathing and alive. Kid did not want to risk moving him now. The decision was made. They would stay there for the night.

***

Kid Curry searched his partner’s saddle bags and used a shirt and bandana to bandage his partner’s head, taking care not to move him anymore than was necessary. The cut was not deep but the dark-haired man’s forehead was badly bruised. Heyes did not wake as he tended his wounds. Kid spoke to his partner but expected, and received, no response.

He set up camp beside the river; made a fire and found the coffee pot in the saddle bags. Kid made some coffee and put it on the fire to heat up. As his partner lay unconscious, covered by a blanket, Kid took the time to tend to his own wounds. He opened his torn shirt. The scratches in his side looked red and raw. He tore more strips from the shirt he had found. It was not one of Heyes’ favourites but, even so, Kid made a mental note to buy him a new one when they returned to town. Bending down at the river’s edge, he soaked one of the strips in the water, then wiped at the bloody marks on his side. Kid flinched at his own touch and gritted his teeth as he cleaned the wounds. He tied some strips of cloth together and ran them around his body so that they covered the three claw marks. It didn’t cover them very well but it would do until they reached town. Kid pulled on his shirt, buttoned it up and went back to check on his partner. Heyes was sleeping and his breathing seemed steady. Kid sat down, next to his friend, beneath the tree; a cup of coffee in one hand. He shivered at the first chill of the night, wishing he had his sheepskin coat to keep him warm but that was back at the hotel along with all of his possessions. Holding Heyes’ gun loosely in his hand, Kid Curry leaned back against the tree, watching the shadows move around the campsite as the fire crackled and snapped. His eyes darted from trees to bushes and back again and he listened for any sounds that suggested approaching danger. He watched his partner.

“You just rest, Heyes,” Kid said although he doubted his partner could hear him. “I got your back covered.”

***

Hannibal Heyes opened his eyes and saw blue sky through the leaves and branches of a tree. A single white cloud drifted into view and a bird sang in the branches above him. For a moment, he had no idea where he was. He was then aware of a pain in his forehead and, raising a hand, found a makeshift bandage around his head. Having spotted his partner stirring, Kid Curry approached and crouched beside him. He held a steaming cup of coffee in his hand.

“Good mornin’,” he said, smiling as he studied his friend’s face, glad to see him awake and looking better.

“Hey Kid,” Heyes said sleepily.

“How you feelin’?”

“Better, I think,” Heyes said but he looked puzzled. “Did I pass out?”

“Yep.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t suppose you had a choice about it,” Kid told him. Heyes focussed on his partner’s face. Kid looked tired.

“How long I been out?” Heyes asked.

“All night.”

“You get any sleep?” the dark-haired man asked, concerned at how heavy Kid’s eyes looked and the dark circles beneath them.

“I’m okay,” the blond man said, not answering the question and Heyes took that as a ‘no’. Hannibal Heyes sat up and groaned. He ached all over. His legs, arms and body felt bruised.

“Did I fall down a hill?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Kid took a sip of his coffee. “D’you want some coffee?” Heyes nodded.

“Did I dream it or did you kill a bear?”

“Yeah, I did. Let it go Heyes, okay?” Kid stood up clearly irritated. Heyes watched his partner walk back to the fire. Kid winced, and held his right side, as he bent down to pick up the coffee pot. Heyes raised himself cautiously onto his hands and knees. His joints felt stiff and each movement was painful. Using the tree to support himself he got slowly to his feet. Kid walked towards him, watching for any sign that his partner might pass out again. Satisfied Heyes was okay, he handed him a steaming cup of coffee.

“What happened to the McCloskeys?” Heyes asked, taking a mouthful of coffee and appreciating the warmth of the liquid as it slid down his throat.

“I guess Frank took his brother to find the doctor,” the blond man said. “Somethin’ we should do for you.”

“You didn’t sleep in case they came back did you?” Heyes stated watching his partner’s eyes.

“Somethin’ like that,” Kid admitted, looking at his partner. “How’s your head?”

“Okay. Ache’s a bit but I’m alright.”

“You gonna be okay to ride?” Heyes nodded and his partner went off to start clearing up the camp. When the fire had been doused, the saddle bags packed and Heyes’ horse saddled, the two men were ready to leave.

Kid stood back to allow Heyes to mount first. He waited in case his partner needed a hand. Then he approached the horse. He winced as he took hold of the saddle.

“What’s wrong with your side?” Heyes asked.

“Nothin’,” Kid said.

“Kid.” Heyes tone told Kid he expected the truth. Kid was about to pull himself up behind his partner. He said nothing. Heyes looked down at his younger cousin not moving his foot from the stirrup. “Kid?”

“It’s nothin’,” Kid told him firmly.

“What’s nothin’?” Brown eyes fixed on his cousin’s blue ones.

“Just a scratch,” Kid said dismissively, hoping Heyes would pick up the reins and let him on the horse. “Can we get goin’?” His partner said nothing as he still looked at Kid. He had no intention of going anywhere; no intention of letting Kid get his foot in the stirrup until he knew what had happened. He moved his foot and the stirrup away from his partner. Kid shifted uncomfortably. “Oh c’mon, Heyes, please.”

“What’s nothin’?” Heyes asked and Kid finally relented.

“I got caught by its claws, okay?” He pulled Heyes’ foot from the stirrup as his partner thought about this. Kid raised his own foot and groaned.

“The bear caught you?” Heyes asked incredulously.

“Yeah, the bear caught me. Okay? Satisfied?” Kid tried to pull himself up but again groaned as the movement pulled at the wound where the skin had begun to knit together, pulling the wound open again. He rested his head against the saddle. Heyes slid from the saddle and stood concerned beside his partner.

“Let me see,” he insisted and their eyes fixed on each others. Kid looked away first.

“Heyes please, it’s okay.” But he could tell from Heyes’ expression that he was not going to let this drop. Reluctantly he opened his vest and Heyes saw the blood on his torn shirt.

“How bad?”

“Like I said, it’s just a scratch.”

“Let me see.” Kid opened his shirt and moved the bandage he had fashioned aside. Heyes saw three deep cuts in his partner’s flesh and the red inflamed skin around it. “Damn it Kid, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Nothin’ you can do about it. Can we get goin’?” Kid turned back to the horse and Heyes put a hand on his arm.

“You shoulda told me.”

“You were unconscious!” Kid reminded him.

“Not all the time!” Heyes said indignantly.

“Heyes, just get back on the horse,” the blond man pleaded.

“We’re partners Kid. I’m allowed to worry about you.”

“I know Heyes and I ‘ppreciate it. Really I do, but there was nothin’ you could do.” He thought for a moment. “I promise you next time I’m attacked by a bear, you’ll be the first person to know.” He looked seriously at his partner who suddenly found himself beginning to smile at the ridiculousness of the conversation. He struggled not to let Kid see but then a grin broke across his face.

“Okay Kid,” Heyes said. “That’s a good deal.”

Kid smiled and pushed his hat back.

“Let me guess,” he said. “Only you, me and this horse will know about it?”

“Exactly,” Heyes stated.

“Can we go now?” Kid asked. Heyes nodded and climbed back into the saddle. He moved forward, took his foot from the stirrup and Kid pulled himself up behind his partner.

***

The hotel desk clerk looked up as the two men approached the desk. The dark-haired man had a makeshift bandage across his forehead and his face was covered in small cuts and bruises. His blond-haired partner had a swollen left eye, looked as if he had been in a fist-fight and was favouring his right side.

“Had a bit of a rough night, gentlemen?” the desk clerk inquired politely. Their eyes narrowed and they looked at him but neither man spoke. The desk clerk knew not to mention this again.

“Can we have our key?” Heyes asked and the man took it from the hook and handed it to him. “Can you send up a bath?”

“Of course sir.” He watched them as they walked towards the stairs and made their way up to the first floor, their movements stiff and careful, revealing how much they both ached.

Kid unbuckled his gun belt and hung it from the bed post. He placed his hat on the post too and then dropped onto his bed. He groaned and closed his eyes. Heyes removed the makeshift bandage from around his head and examined the wound in the mirror.

“I can’t remember the last time I ached so much,” Kid told his partner.

“Kid, I’ll toss you for who has the bath first,” Heyes said.

“Whose coin?” Kid asked, not opening his eyes.

“Yours,” Heyes assured him as he dropped onto his own bed. Kid realised how weak his partner was, to have agreed to that.

By the time the bath was brought to their room, both men were fast asleep. The desk clerk knocked gently, several times on the door and, receiving no reply, he quietly unlocked the door with his pass key. The clerk, and the men who had carried the bath up the stairs, saw the two men fast asleep on the bed. Turning the clerk put his finger to his lips to keep the men quiet. He ushered them out of the room and locked it behind them. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones would summon him when they were awake. From the state they were in, when they arrived back today, he did not expect them to call for some time.

***

Frank McCloskey had left his brother at the doctor’s receiving treatment for his gun shot wound. He knew the sheriff would be around soon and asking awkward questions. Tom was out cold so he wouldn’t be telling anything just yet. If Frank made himself scarce, he could avoid having to explain what had happened for a while longer. He had unfinished business with the men who had shot his brother and a friend had already informed him they had been seen riding back into town. Frank McCloskey entered the hotel lobby with anger in his eyes and a shot gun under his arm. Spotting the bald headed clerk behind the desk, he headed towards him.

“I’m looking for Thaddeus Jones. He stayin’ here?” Frank asked, not expecting to wait long for an answer. The clerk looked past McCloskey to the large man standing behind him, the man Frank had brought with him. Bill Dixon was over six feet tall with broad shoulders and huge muscular arms. He had scruffy black hair and beard and narrow eyes. He towered over his brother-in–law and Frank knew the desk clerk would not want to tangle with Bill. He had brought him along to help him deal with Smith and Jones, but if he scared the desk clerk into telling him what he wanted to know, that was a bonus. The clerk could not think of any reason why McCloskey would want Mr. Jones.

“Mr. Jones has retired to his room,” the clerk told them. “I don’t think he would want to be disturbed.”

“What room?” McCloskey asked. The clerk hesitated.

“I don’t think I should…”

“He asked ya what room,” Dixon said and gave the clerk such a menacing look that the man pointed to the stairs.

“Room f..four,” the clerk stuttered. The two men headed for the stairs.

“This is it,” Frank said as they stood outside room four. “I guess I could knock,” he stated and Dixon smiled as Frank stood back to give his brother-in-law room. With one well-aimed kick the lock was broken and the door flew open. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were instantly awake and scrambling for their guns, expecting to be facing a sheriff or a posse. Instead they came face to face with Frank McCloskey, a giant of a man they did not know and McCloskey’s shotgun. The ex-outlaws froze. Kid looked down the barrel of the weapon as it was pointed in his face.

“It would give me real pleasure t’pull the trigger right now,” McCloskey told him as that icy blue stare focussed on him once more. “Trouble is, folks know I was comin’ up here and the sheriff ain’t no fool. Still if ya give me a reason, I’d just hafta shoot.” Kid eased back onto the bed, his hands raised. Heyes was already on his feet. McCloskey motioned to the armchair and Heyes sat. McCloskey looked pleased with himself. He had both men at his mercy; exactly where he wanted them. Bill Dixon pushed the door closed and stood in front of it, blocking the exit.

“Git up!” McCloskey ordered and Kid got slowly to his feet, his eyes fixed on the older man and the gun he held. “M’brother’s over at the doctor’s cuz a you,” Frank said.

“He’d be at the undertaker’s if you’d had your way,” Kid replied and Heyes closed his eyes. Why did Kid have to goad the man? Heyes caught Kid’s eyes and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. He sent Kid an unspoken message. Don’t push it Kid, you can’t back it up. Heyes glared as his partner who pretended not to notice. McCloskey raised the shotgun towards the blond man, his finger moved on the trigger. His eyes met Kid’s. If he had his gun, Kid would surely have drawn by now. Instead he could do nothing but wait to see what the other man did. The weapon was aimed at his head.

“What do you want Mr. McCloskey?” Heyes asked, hoping to distract the man from his partner. McCloskey lowered the shotgun but kept his eyes firmly on Kid’s before finally turning to face Heyes.

“I want t’repay ya for the way ya’ve treated m’family,” Frank told him. “Want t’repay ya real good. I gotta reputation in this town and folks know not to mess with me or mine. They’ll be askin’ who shot Tom and what I inten’ t’do about it. Don’t wanna disappoint the town folks do we now?” He beckoned to Dixon. “Tie ‘em up Bill.” The big man stepped forward and pulled two leather straps from his pocket. He advanced on Hannibal Heyes.

“Hell we ain’t gonna kill ya. Jus’ let folks see what happens if ya cross us.” McCloskey told them both as Dixon tied Heyes wrists together.

“You think that’ll impress ‘em?” Kid asked disdainfully and McCloskey hit him across the face with the back of his hand. Kid staggered backwards and Heyes rose in his seat only to have Dixon lay and firm hand on his shoulder and push him back down. Heyes had no weapon and Dixon turned his gun on him, holding it close to Heyes’ face. There was nothing he could do to help his partner. Kid was normally the quiet one, almost too reticent at times. What was it about this man that made him so gabby? Damn it Kid, will you just shut up? Heyes thought. It was then that McCloskey noticed the blood stains on Kid’s shirt for the first time.

“Well now what happened to ya?” he asked pushing the shot gun into Kid’s stomach. Kid flinched as the barrel pressed against the claws marks. McCloskey smiled and pushed the barrel into the blond man a little harder enjoying his pained reaction. “That hurt boy?” Kid said nothing, which angered the older man. McCloskey shoved the barrel into Kid’s abdomen once more and Kid fell back onto the bed.

“I asked ya a question,” McCloskey told him. He pushed the barrel into Kid again and Heyes looked into Kid’s eyes and knew how much the gun was hurting his friend. “That hurtin’ ya?”

“No,” Kid lied through gritted teeth and McCloskey rammed the gun barrel into Kid causing the blond gunslinger to cry out in pain as the scarred flesh was torn once more.

“I sure don’t like people lyin’ t’me,” McCloskey told him and gave a triumphant smile as fresh blood began to appear on the front of Kid’s shirt. Frank McCloskey ripped open Kid’s shirt revealing the makeshift bandages and the bloody claw marks. “Whoa! That bear get ya?” Blue eyes fixed McCloskey’s with a murderous icy gaze.

“Bet ya’d like to kill me wouldn’t ya?” McCloskey goaded knowing he had Kid’s attention. “Yeah, if I was to leave this six gun on the bed, I bet ya’d grab it and try to kill me, wouldn’t ya?” He met Kid’s eyes and Heyes saw the anger welling up in Kid.

“Thaddeus,” Heyes cautioned not sure if his partner was listening to him. McCloskey took his gun from his holster and placed it next to Kid. Slowly he stepped back giving the blond man the chance to reach for the gun. Heyes hoped Kid would realise it was a trick, an attempt to goad him into reaching so that McCloskey could shoot him and claim it was a fair fight. It was at that moment that Heyes realised the gun was probably not even loaded.

“Thaddeus don’t. Don’t do it,” Heyes said and Dixon yanked him backwards.

“Why don’t ya shut up?” the big man advised.

Kid said nothing but he looked at the gun on the quilt beside him and his fingers longed to wrap around the handle and gently squeeze the trigger. Heyes watched his partner’s face and waited, praying silently that Kid would not touch the gun. Then he saw the change come over Kid’s face and Heyes’ knew it would be all right. Kid Curry looked at Frank McCloskey and smiled, the chill having gone out of the blue.

“I’ll pass on that if you don’t mind,” Kid said and McCloskey held his gaze for a moment before realising this man was not going to do as he hoped.

“Suit yer self.” He turned to his brother-in-law. “Bill let’s get ‘em outta here.” Kid met Heyes’ gaze and saw the relief in his partner’s eyes. Heyes gave his head a shake sending his partner a message that said, ‘I don’t believe you sometimes.’

Once they were both tied up, Dixon dragged each man to his feet and they were pushed out of the room and along the corridor towards the first floor exit. There was a door at the end of the corridor that opened onto to a set of wooden stairs leading to an alley at the side of the hotel. It was a fire escape of sorts although it had more use as a swift exit for a man about to be caught in the wrong room by his wife, girlfriend or an irate husband. At the bottom of the stairs was the buckboard, the horses waiting patiently.

***

Dixon dumped them unceremoniously in the back of the buckboard and threw a greasy old tarpaulin over the top of them, before climbing onboard to take the reins. The buckboard moved off heading out of town. The partners were shaken about in the back, feeling every jolt as the wheels hit a rock or bump in the road. Eventually, after what seemed like days instead of hours, they arrived back at the mine. The McCloskey family seemed to like that as a place to deal with their enemies. It was quiet, remote, and in the tunnels the sound of the occasional scream bothered no one. Heyes and Curry were dragged down the tunnel deeper into the mine. A series of lanterns burned to light their way. Huge shadows danced ominously across the walls as the four men moved deeper into the mountainside. Eventually they entered a small chamber where a shaft plunged to unknown depths. A ladder disappeared into the darkness below. Boxes were piled in one corner and before he had time to study his surroundings Heyes was pushed into a corner and shoved behind the pile of boxes worryingly labelled ‘Dynamite’. Heyes did not know if they were full or not, but the way their luck was going he suspected they were. Pushed to his knees, Heyes’ hands were then tied to a metal ring fastened into the tunnel wall. Heyes heard a scuffle and Kid did some pretty good cursing. He assumed Kid was resisting whatever McCloskey had in store for him but the boxes obscured his view, so he could only guess at that. There had been the sound of punches but it had fallen ominously silent now. He hoped Kid was okay.

Without a backward glance, McCloskey and Dixon left them there and the sounds of their footsteps grew dim as they hurried away. Heyes pulled on the metal ring trying to free himself but to no avail. Dixon had bound him tight and Heyes was not going to free himself easily.

“Kid? Kid?” Heyes called. He could not see his partner. Why wasn’t his friend answering him? Was he hurt? Unconscious? “Kid?” Heyes called again.

“What?” came a somewhat terse reply.

“You okay?” No reply. “Kid? You okay?” There was a heavy sigh.

“What’s wrong?” Heyes asked knowing something was, even if Kid hadn’t said so.

“Nothin’,” his partner replied in a tone that told Heyes the opposite was true. Heyes twisted round until he lay on his side. His arms were at full stretch but he could just about peer out from behind one of the boxes. Finally, he got a view of his friend. Kid Curry was standing against the wall, his arms raised above his head, his hands tied together and fastened to another metal ring, this time set high in the wall. Heyes thought the blond haired man looked ready to drop which was a poor choice of words because Kid was standing on a tiny wooden ledge at the edge of a shaft. If he took one step forward Kid would be hanging by his wrists above the chasm of indeterminate depth. Kid had no wish to plummet, into the darkness, to his death and so was struggling to maintain a semblance of a foot hold on the inches wide piece of wood beneath his feet.

“Don’t move,” Heyes instructed. “Keep as still as you can. Hang on.”

“Gee Heyes, I never would have thought of that,” Kid replied sarcastically, giving his partner a look that suggested he was ready to flatten someone and it might just be his friend.

“I’ll get to you Kid,” Heyes assured him. “Just hang on.”

“Heyes will you stop sayin’ that. I can’t do nothin’ but hang on!” Kid complained and at that moment his foot slipped and he felt himself fall.

“Kid!” Heyes cried as his friend dropped a couple of feet. Kid cried out as his arms were yanked painfully in their sockets. He hung in mid air, swinging slightly, as the ropes about his wrists took his weight. The ropes began to cut into his flesh as they tightened, opening the wounds caused by the rawhide. The metal ring groaned as it scraped against the rock wall. Kid managed to get his feet on the wall to steady himself and found just enough of a rocky ledge, to support him, enabling him to grab hold of the ring with his fingers. As his hands grasped the metal the rocks beneath his feet broke off and he was hanging free once more only this time he had his hands around the ring.

Hannibal Heyes pulled on the ropes that held him, then on the metal ring before cursing himself for his own stupidity. He reached into his boot and withdrew a small thin knife. Thank God no one ever seemed to check his boots! With a few careful movements he was able to manoeuvre the knife into a position to cut through the ropes that bound his wrists. He sawed perilously close to the flesh on his wrists but eventually the threads began to break one at a time. When the last fibre was cut through Heyes pulled his wrists free and was quickly on his feet heading towards his partner. Kid did not say a word, he just clung onto the ring, hanging above the shaft, his legs swinging in the air and he hoped Heyes would think of someway to help him. The metal ring groaned again and Kid felt a sickening creak as the rock around the ring began to come loose from the wall.

“Heyes, if you’re thinkin’ of some brilliant way t’get me outta this, could you do it a bit faster?” Kid pleaded desperately.

“I’m workin’ on it Kid,” the dark-haired man replied.

“Well work faster! I don’t think I can hold on much longer!”

“Boy you sure are gettin’ proddy,” Heyes complained.

“Heyes!”

Hannibal Heyes looked around and spotted in the shadows, a large wooden plank a few feet away. Heaving it towards the shaft he pushed and dragged it across the opening until it was close to his friend. Kid swung his legs and got his feet onto the plank, finally able to take the weight off his wrists.

“Thanks,” Kid said with relief and gave his partner a grateful smile. Heyes climbed onto the plank, took hold of his knife and, reaching up, began to saw through the ropes at Kid’s wrists. “How do we keep gettin’ into things like this, Heyes?” Kid asked and his partner gave a shake of his head.

“I don’t know Kid. I wouldn’t believe what happens to us if I read it in a dime novel.”

“I thought they made all that stuff up. Now I’m not so sure.”

Kid was breathing heavily as he recovered from the adrenaline rush brought on by the thought of plunging hundreds of feet to the impact of an unpleasant death. As Heyes worked on the ropes, the partners found themselves face to face. Not knowing where to look and not wanting to be in a position to rub noses with Heyes, Kid turned away. Heyes smiled at his friend’s discomfort but his smile was short lived as the board on which both men now stood began to creak and crack.

“Cut faster!” Kid instructed his friend.

“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’,” Heyes told him as the knife finally broke through the first rope. Something in the plank snapped and they felt the board give a little. Heyes clung to his partner.

“Heyes!” Kid hissed impatiently and the ex-outlaw continued to work on the ropes. There was another snap of wood. The board sank lower and the knife cut Kid’s wrist. Heyes was horrified to see blood run from the cut.

“Sorry Kid,” he said but his partner was no longer concerned for his own safety.

“Heyes, get off the board,” Kid ordered.

“No.” Heyes’ tone was defiant.

“Get off or we’ll both fall,” Kid told him.

“Shut up, I’m concentratin’,” Heyes told his partner as he continued to work on the ropes, trying to ignore the thin stream of blood that ran down Kid’s wrist.

“Damn it Heyes, get off, now. You tried your best, there’s no more time.” His partner did not move. The board began to bow in the middle, creaking continuously, and they heard another snap. “Heyes, please. Save yourself.”

“Yak, yak, yak. No wonder I can’t concentrate,” the dark-haired man scolded.

Finally, Kid felt the last binding loosen and he pulled his hands free of the metal ring. Without a word both men grabbed the other and jumped. They landed on the dirt floor as the plank went crashing into the darkness.

They lay for a moment on the floor. Their breathing heavy; their thoughts on what could have been. Kid slowly sat up and patted his friend on the back.

“Thanks partner,” he said and for Heyes no more words were needed. He sat up and gave Kid a smile. Kid shook his head. “You’re crazy you know that? You could have been killed.”

“So could you. I figured you didn’t really want me to stop cuttin’.” He gave Kid a smile nodding as he did so.

“Can we get outta here?” Kid asked hopefully.

“Sure, Kid, let’s go.” Heyes got to his feet and offered a helping hand to his young cousin.

***

Kid noticed that Heyes was still limping as they made their way towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. He must have sprained it badly when he fell down the hill and the jump in the tunnel had not helped, but typically, his partner wasn’t complaining.

They looked cautiously out of the tunnel’s entrance. No one appeared to be about. There were no horses. No buckboard. It looked as if McCloskey and Dixon had gone. Moving cautiously into the open they headed once more for the trees and the path they had ridden along earlier that day; the path that led back to town. They had no choice but to walk and if McCloskey and Dixon returned, they would be hidden from view.

“You gonna be alright on that foot?” Kid asked and Heyes stopped in his tracks.

“No Kid I’m not. You got another one I could use?” Kid stared at his partner momentarily confused by his reply. When Kid did not say anything Heyes smiled and shook his head. “Forget it Kid. I’ll be fine. It hurts a little but what choice do I have? Unless, you’re offering to carry me?”

“Nope, not offerin’ that.” Kid stated.

“And after I just save you from a fall to your death,” Heyes said indignantly.

“Well you know I’m grateful Heyes but not enough to carry you all the way t’town.”

As dusk began to fall, they walked in companionable silence, ever watchful for any sign of their captors returning. Hearing a sudden noise Kid put a hand on Heyes’ shoulder and they stood still. Both men listened. Kid heard Heyes breathing next to him but the sound that had caught his attention had stopped.

“What was it?” Heyes asked, his voice little more than a whisper..

“Don’t know. Jus’, heard somethin’,” Kid assured him in equally hushed tones.

“Maybe you’re jus’ a little nervous?” his partner suggested.

“No Heyes, I’m a lot nervous,” Kid told him, unable to hide the irritation he felt. “We’ve got no guns, no horses, we’re both hurt and we’re miles from town. There could be anyone around here. Another bear maybe. A mountain lion. Hell we could even run into some outlaws.” There was a sudden commotion in the bushes in front of them and both men froze. Kid slowly reached for a large stick that lay on the ground, arming himself against who knew what; the memory of the bear attack still fresh in his mind. Heyes stood beside him ready to face whatever lay in wait for them. They held their breath and waited. A family of raccoons scurried out of the undergrowth, across the path in front of them and disappeared behind a fallen tree. Kid let out a long breath and rested on the stick. Heyes rested a hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“Well, they had masks on. I guess they could’a been outlaws,” he said. “D’you think you’d recognise them if you saw them again, Kid?” He grinned at the blond-haired man.

“Very funny Heyes. You know what I meant.” The blond man walked off along the track, leaving his smiling friend, to limp quickly, to catch up to him.

***

They walked along the path each lost in their own thoughts. Once they were far enough away from the mine, they would join the road into town. It was relatively well used during the daytime and, even as evening drew near, there was still the distinct possibility that they would be able to get a ride back to Valentine.

Another scurrying sound, in the bushes up ahead, caught Kid’s attention. He stopped. Kid held up his hand for his partner to halt too. Heyes was tired, his foot ached and he just wanted to get back to town. He was feeling a little irritated at his partner’s insistence that they check out every rustle of leaves or snap of a twig, however much he knew Kid had their safety in mind.

“Now what?” he asked gruffly.

“Don’t know, heard somethin’,” Kid told him in a whisper.

“What you got this time? Another family of racoons? Or maybe a whole gang of turkeys waitin’ t’rob the noon stage?” The dark-haired man ventured into the bushes. He waved his arms about and turned back to face his partner. “There’s nothin’ here okay? Can we get goin’?” He saw Kid’s expression change and the blond man began to shake his head and held up his hands trying to stop Heyes from shaking the bush.

“Heyes don’t….” and then there was the smell. A smell you wanted to run as far away from as possible. A smell as distinct as it was awful. Like a mixture of very bad cheese mixed with the worst case of unwashed socks. A stomach-churningly awful smell. Only your best friend would stick with you if you were covered in a smell like that. Kid was reconsidering his position as Heyes’ best friend.

The skunk walked indignantly away from Hannibal Heyes. Its black and white fur seemed ruffled at having been so rudely disturbed during a pleasant nap. For his part, the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang was trying to maintain some form of dignity despite the fact that his back had just been sprayed by the animal.

“Oh God,” Heyes said in a quiet voice.

“Phew, Heyes, I tried to warn ya,” Kid said walking backwards away from his friend, his hand over his nose and mouth as he did so. “I think you’re gonna hafta stand down wind o’me now.”

“I gotta get outta these clothes,” Heyes stated.

“And into what?” Kid asked.

“Your shirt, give me your shirt,” his partner pleaded, beckoning Kid closer.

“I’m not givin’ you my shirt, you smell like a skunk.” Kid took two steps backwards.

“I can’t stay in these clothes!” Heyes yelled. Kid looked at him.

“Well if you take ‘em off you’re gonna hafta go nekkid.”

“I can’t walk around naked!”

“Well you ain’t wearin’ my clothes smellin’ like that,” Kid told him. Heyes looked at his friend.

“Fine partner you turn out t’be,” he moaned as he unbuttoned his shirt and then pulled it over his head. He threw it into the bushes. “Y’know if this had happened to you I’d…”

“You’d what?” Kid asked, interested to know what Heyes would do in his place.

“Well I’d be more helpful that’s for sure!” he pulled his Henley top off and threw that away too. Heyes shivered, his skin covered in goose-bumps. The air in the woods was cool and night was not far off. He folded his arms across his chest.

“Gonna take yer pants off now?” Kid asked derisively but Heyes just glared at him. “I mean you plann’ on freezin’ t’death out here?” He walked to where Heyes had thrown his Henley. Kid picked it up with fingertips, held it at arms length and threw it back at his partner. Heyes caught it, unsure what he was supposed to do.

“Put it back on Heyes. You stink anyway, no need to catch yer death.” Heyes smiled at his partner but the smell on the Henley made him retch.

“I can’t Kid.” He threw it away. The blond man had a sudden thought.

“Water. We hafta find some water. You could wash it off. How far away’s that river?” Kid asked.

“Too far,” Heyes told him.

“Well maybe there’s a stream around here. Did you see one when you rode out?”

“No,” Heyes retorted, “But then I didn’t see a skunk either!” Heyes yelled fixing him with dark brown eyes. Then an idea came into his head. “No wait, tomatoes!” Heyes cried.

“What?” Kid asked.

“Tomatoes kill the smell. Remember, when Kyle caught the skunk that time? And he got sprayed?” Heyes looked hopefully at his partner who was still keeping his distance from his friend.

“Yeah I remember, ‘cept no one could tell what part of the stink was skunk and what was jus’ naturally Kyle,” Kid reminded him.

“Well we used tomatoes to clean ‘im up. Get the smell off,” Heyes said.

“I know.” Kid nodded. “But we don’t have any tomatoes, do we?” Heyes looked a little disappointed.

“I know Kid. I just meant when we get back to town we can get some and that will kill the smell.”

“You don’t think they’ll actually let you into town smellin’ like that do ya?” Kid asked as they began to walk along the track again, happy to be upwind of his partner. “Oh no. They’ll be hoards of angry villagers wielding pitch forks, yelling ‘Keep away’.” Heyes stopped and stared at his partner. Kid looked back.

“What?”

“Hoards of angry villagers? Wielding pitch forks? You really have been reading dime novels haven’t ya?” He shook his head and pushed passed Kid who stepped back as if hit by lightening.

“Downwind Heyes! You gotta keep down wind!”

***

They saw the buckboard coming long before the man driving the team spotted them. On Kid’s insistence Heyes stood several yards away, downwind and for once agreed to let Kid do the talking. Kid stepped into the road and waved the man and his team to a halt. Samuel Williams picked up his shotgun. He rested the weapon across his lap. Just in case he needed it.

“Howdy!” Kid smiled as he stepped to the side of the team. “You headin’ into Valentine?” The man was in his early thirties, with dark hair and a muscular body. He looked like the farmer he was. In the fading light, Sam Williams looked suspiciously at the young blond man standing before him. The front of his shirt was covered in blood, he looked as if he had taken a recent beating and his clothes were dusty and torn. However the holster, of the gun belt he wore, was empty and as he stood in front of him with his hands raised he did not appear to pose a threat. There was a dark–haired young man standing some way off. He smiled and waved but came no closer. The man was naked to the waist, which puzzled Sam.

“I’m goin’ into Valentine,” he said. “You boys want a ride?”

“We’d really ‘ppreciate that,” Kid told him.

“What’s wrong with your friend? Sam asked suspiciously. “Why’s he over there? And why ain’t he wearin’ a shirt?”

“Well sir there’s a bit of a problem,” Kid began.

“Its Sam,” the young farmer told him.

“Pleased to meet you Sam,” Kid said holding out his hand, which the farmer shook. “I’m Thaddeus Jones and that’s my partner over there, Joshua Smith. Joshua had a bit of an accident.” Sam looked concerned.

“He hurt?”

“Only his pride, Sam.” Kid smiled. “He got sprayed by a skunk.” The farmer recoiled.

“Oh,” he said now wondering if offering the men a lift had been such a good idea after all.

“It’s alright, he’ll stay down wind. Sit right at the back so you won’t hafta smell ‘im.” Kid could see Sam wasn’t so sure. He gave the man a reassuring smile. “Whaddya say?” he beckoned to Heyes before the man could change his mind. He was a decent man and did not want to leave the two men so far from town.

“I guess it’d be okay. If he sat way at the back.”

“Oh he will Sam, no worries there.” Heyes approached and gave Sam a sheepish smile, self consciously covering his chest with his hands. The man nodded a greeting and then put a hand to his face to shield his nose from the smell.

“You get on the back, Joshua. Stay well away from Mr. Williams here.” Kid’s tone was patronising and Heyes gave him a look that told his friend in no uncertain terms that they would be talking about this later. Kid had a feeling the conversation could be painful if he didn’t handle it just right. Heyes climbed onto the back of the buckboard as Kid climbed onto the seat beside the farmer. As the horses started Heyes had to hang on tight as he was bumped and jostled about. Kid had his back to his friend so was fortunate not to see the look Heyes gave him.

***

An overpowering smell reached the nose of the hotel desk clerk as he replaced Mrs. Witherspoon’s documents in the hotel safe. He closed the safe and turned to see Mr. Jones at the desk. Getting to his feet the clerk gave the young blond man a smile as he discreetly placed a hand over his nose. Then he spotted Mr. Smith standing naked to the waist some way off, trying to hide himself beside a large potted plant. He looked embarrassed.

“Ah gentlemen, I wondered when you’d be back,” the desk clerk said greeting them with a professional smile. He took in Kid’s grubby, battered and bruised appearance. Mr. Smith drew nearer and the smell grew more powerful. Mr. Jones moved away from his friend. The clerk took a step backwards. He knew exactly what that smell was and that it was emanating from the dark-haired man but with true professionalism he made no reference to it. He coughed as his eyes began to water. “Oh my,” he rasped as the smell took his breath away.

An elderly couple approached the reception desk, noticing with horror Heyes’ state of undress and then, catching the faintest whiff of the two men at the desk, they scurried quickly away.

“That bath perhaps?” the clerk asked looking at Mr. Smith as he handed the room key to Mr. Jones.

“And send up as many cans of tomatoes as you’ve got,” Kid told him propelling Heyes towards the stairs.

“I’ll get right on it!” the clerk called out and scuttled off to the kitchen.

***

As he approached their room the desk clerk could hear the sound of the partner’s arguing. He could not make out what they were saying but they were clearly not happy with one another.

“If I had a gun…” but Heyes didn’t finish what he was going to say. Kid stopped and looked at his partner.

“What? C’mon Heyes. If you had a gun what?” Kid demanded to know, his hands placed firmly on his hips.

“I’d shoot ya!” Heyes told him.

“Well fine go right ahead. Hell it’s about the only thing that hasn’t happened to me in the last twenty four hours. I’ve been beaten up, attacked by a bear, shot at and strung up and all because of you and your big mouth. Silver tongued indeed!”

“Me? You’re blamin’ all of this on me?” Heyes shouted indignantly.

“Yes I am!” Kid yelled. “You’re the one that had to jinx us. Had to say how great things were goin’.”

“What about you? If you hadn’t gone t’help McCloskey’s sister we wouldn’t be in this mess!” They were nose to nose and Kid began to realise that was not a good place to be with Heyes smelling the way he did but he did not want to back down now.

“I told ya, I was brought up t’ help a woman.”

“Yeah and don’t we know it. How many times has your need to help a woman, got us in ta trouble?”

“I don’t know. I ain’t been countin’.” Kid retorted at full volume. There was a knock at the door.

“What?” they yelled in unison and the desk clerk put his head hesitantly around the door.

“Your bath sir?” he said and both men visibly relaxed.

“Please, bring it in,” Heyes said politely and two men carried the bath into the room before disappearing off to get the water. The desk clerk placed a can of tomatoes on the dresser and left too. Hannibal Heyes looked at his partner.

“This ain’t over,” Kid said.

“With you, it never is,” Heyes muttered as he picked up the can of tomatoes.

“What?”

“I said with you it never is. You’re so stubborn. I never met a man as stubborn as you. Just once, can’t you let a woman manage on her own? Oh no, you hafta be the white knight and…” he stopped as he saw the look on Kid’s face. “What is it Kid?”

“Just somethin’ I‘ve been meanin’ to do.” He advanced on his partner.

“Kid?” Heyes stepped back. “Kid?” And then the punch hit him.

***

When the men brought up the first of the bath water, they found Mr. Jones sitting in the chair by the window trying to stop his nose bleeding. They set about their work and swiftly left the room.

“I didn’t hit you that hard,” the dark-haired man said with concern as he handed his partner a handkerchief. Kid fixed Heyes with a look.

“’ard enuff,” came the blond man’s muffled reply.

“You turned into my hand. I wasn’t aimin’ for your nose,” the ex-outlaw leader said defensively. He sat on the bed and began to pull off his boots. He stopped and looked at his blond friend.

“You alright?” Heyes asked his friend with concern.

“I think ya broke ma nose,” Kid told him.

“No I didn’t and you shouldn’t of hit me,” Heyes told him.

“Had to hit someone,” Kid replied. Heyes looked at his young cousin, his swollen eye, the bruises on his face, the blood covered shirt, and the scabs on his wrists where the bindings had cut deep. Kid was in a sorry state.

“It’s okay Kid. We’ve just had a bad couple of days. I promise you we’ll leave Valentine tomorrow.” Heyes paused and Kid looked across at him. “After we pay a visit to Frank McCloskey.” Kid smiled.

“Good. I thought you’d forgotten about him.” Kid looked at his feet and did not meet his partner’s gaze when he spoke. “I’m sorry I hit you. I was jus’ feelin’ cranky. I get like that when I’m hungry, you know that.”

“Hungry? You’re thinkin’ about food?” Heyes asked incredulously and Kid’s head shot up.

“Well I didn’t get any breakfast,” Kid informed his friend.

Heyes smiled and shook his head.

The hotel staff returned and began to fill the bath as another man appeared with several more cans of tomatoes and a can opener. They worked as fast as they could anxious to get as far away as possible from the man who smelled like a skunk.

Standing up Heyes approached his friend wanting to check on him but Kid screwed up his bloody nose. “Downwind Heyes I told ya, stay downwind!”

***

The following morning the two men rode out to the mine searching for McCloskey and Dixon. Their faces were bruised, each had an eye that was slightly swollen and Kid could still smell the skunk despite Heyes’ protestations that the smell had gone. He had used every last can of tomatoes that were sent up to their room, scrubbed himself until he felt raw, and Kid swore blind, the smell was still there. From the looks they had received, at the dining room that morning, as they sat down for breakfast, Kid knew he was right.

There was no one at the mine when they got there but as they rode back towards town they heard approaching horses and turned off the path to watch who rode by. As if on cue Frank McCloskey and Bill Dixon appeared with the buckboard on their way to check on the two men they had left overnight. Cautiously the two ex-outlaws followed them.

***

“Mornin’ boys,” Kid Curry said cheerfully as he strode towards them. His six-gun pointed directly at them as they came out of the cabin. Both men looked surprised to see him. “Put your hands up.” He gestured with his gun and they raised their hands slowly. Hannibal Heyes strolled casually out from the side of the cabin.

“Hey fellas,” he said as if greeting old friends. He walked up to McCloskey and took his gun from his holster. McCloskey caught a faint smell of skunk on the man before him and screwed up his nose. Heyes removed Dixon’s gun and walked back to stand beside his partner. Heyes tucked one gun into his belt and then handed the second to Kid who did the same.

“Frank, I want you to turn around so that my partner can tie your hands together,” Kid instructed

“What you gonna do to us?” Frank asked.

“You’ll see,” Heyes told him and McCloskey did as he was told, lowering his arms when Heyes instructed him to. Heyes tied the man’s wrists together and then Kid repeated his instructions to Dixon. When the men were tied up, they led them to the buckboard which stood beside the cabin. Heyes threw back the tarpaulin.

“Get in,” he said. The two men exchanged confused looks.

“Why?” McCloskey asked.

“Where you takin’ us?” Dixon wanted to know.

“Jus’ do as your told,” Kid said in a tone that few men would argue with. With some help from Heyes, the men climbed up onto the buckboard.

“Lay down,” Heyes instructed them and with puzzled looks, they did as he commanded. Heyes gave them another cheery smile as he pulled the tarpaulin over them.

“Hey what’s goin’ on?” McCloskey called out but they decided to ignore him.

“Well go on Heyes,” Kid said as they strode out of earshot of the other men. “You know what to do now.” Heyes looked at his friend.

“Suddenly this isn’t such a good idea,” he admitted.

“Well it was your plan,” his blond-haired partner pointed out helpfully.

“Yeah, I know but although it grieves me to say it Kid,” he said in hushed tones. “This may not be one of my better ones. What if I can’t find it? D’you want to do it?”

“No Heyes, I don’t. Now git goin’,” Kid urged.

“Maybe we could leave the last part out?” Heyes suggested hopefully.

“I like that part and so will you when it’s done.” Reluctantly Heyes walked towards his horse, mounted and rode off. Kid smiled as his friend disappeared from view. It was approximately thirty minutes later that Hannibal Heyes rode back to the mine. He found Kid sitting beneath the shade of the trees twirling his gun casually. Kid got to his feet as Heyes pulled his horse to a halt. The dark-haired man climbed swiftly out of the saddle and walked towards his partner. He carried a sack.

“You got it?” Kid asked as Heyes walked towards him.

“Yeah, I got it. Don’t see why I had to do it,” Heyes said disgruntled.

“Because it was your idea,” Kid said patting him on the back. “An’ I told you Heyes, you still got the smell on you.” Kid gave him a brief smile.

“And I nearly had it again,” Heyes replied. “Stupidest plan I ever had.” The dark-haired man carried the sack towards the buckboard. Kid lifted the tarpaulin and the two men beneath peered out at them, momentarily blinded by the sudden bright light.

“Hey fellas,” Kid said.

“We got you a little goin’ away present,” Heyes told them. “Wanted to show you how much we appreciate all you’ve done to us over the last couple of days.” He lifted the sack, placed it beside them and shook out the contents. Kid gave them a smile and pulled the tarpaulin back over the men.

As they walked back towards their horses, they heard the men cry out. Kid looked at his partner.

“You think they smell somethin’?” Kid asked with a smile.

“I think they do,” Heyes replied giving his partner a broad grin.

“I told you you’d like that part. It shouldn’t take them too long to get loose, should it?” Kid asked.

“Oh no, I didn’t do the knots too tight. An hour at most,” Heyes assured him. Kid considered this, seemingly reassured. “Of course that’s an hour with that smell.”

“You think some of that smell will rub off on them?”

“I sure do hope so Kid.”

“O’course if it does, there ain’t gonna be a can of tomatoes left in town. Not after you used ‘em all last night.”

The partners grinned at each other.

“Real nice of you to leave ‘em your old shirt Heyes,” Kid said as he eased himself into the saddle. The dark-haired man smiled as he pulled himself up onto his own horse. “I still think you shoulda gone back for the skunk instead.” The blond man adjusted his hat, shielding his eyes from the sun.

“Try and catch a skunk? Now that really would be a stupid plan,” Heyes told him and they spurred their horses away from the mine.

THE END

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