A Bump on the Head

A Bump on the Head

By Maz McCoy

“You alright young fella?” Kid Curry opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was the round, wrinkled face of a grey-haired man in his fifties, silhouetted against the bright blue sky. The man had a bushy grey moustache and was chewing on a wad of tobacco as he peered questioningly into Kid’s blue eyes.

The second thing Kid Curry saw was the shiny silver sheriff’s badge pinned to the man’s chest.

“What’s you name son?” Kid thought about this for a moment as his head swam and he eased himself into a sitting position. He appeared to be sitting in the middle of a wide-open plain with nothing visible for miles in any direction.

“Thaddeus. Thaddeus Jones,” he told the man.

“I’m Milton Dobbs. Sheriff Milton Dobbs from Cedar Falls.” The sheriff smiled. “What kind of trouble are you in?”

“What makes you think I’m in trouble?” Kid asked a little more defensively than he meant to.

“When a man turns up miles from nowhere, without a gun or a horse, and with a big bump on his head; I’d say he was in trouble. Here.” He handed Kid a canteen and, thanking the sheriff, the blond man drank gratefully from it. “D’you remember what happened?”

Kid thought, as he held his head in his hands. His hair felt stiff where his blood had dried in it. He rested his elbows on his knees. He had been in a saloon. There was a girl and a bad piano player. Heyes was playing poker. There was an alley. It was dark. Then he remembered a man, who was missing one front tooth, smiling at him. What town was it? Where was Heyes now?

“I’m not sure. I was in town.” Why couldn’t he remember?

The sheriff stood up.

“Well take it easy, it will come back to you in time. We can ride double for a while if you don’t mind hugging an old man.” He smiled down at Kid and offering him a hand pulled him up. Kid staggered and the sheriff held out a hand to steady him. “You’d better take things slow. How many of me do you see?”

“Just the one sheriff,” Kid told him dryly and the older man laughed.

“Hell, that’s usually enough for most people.” Kid kept quiet. One sheriff was one too many for him.

***

Hannibal Heyes was worried. He could not find his partner Kid Curry anywhere and it was not like him to go off without a word. His things were still in their hotel room and his horse was still at the livery stable so where was he? Heyes could hardly walk into the sheriff’s office and tell him Kid Curry was in town and he could not find him, and they should round up some men to look for him. Well put that way maybe he could.

Hannibal Heyes swallowed hard, grabbed hold of the door handle, turned it and entered the sheriff’s office.

“Sheriff?” he asked the young blond man sitting behind the desk. He was in his early twenties and with his curly hair and blue eyes; he could easily pass for Kid’s younger brother.

“Deputy,” the young man corrected him. “Deputy Dan Holden. How can I help?” The cells were empty and that crossed off another of Heyes’ places to look.

***

There was a knock on his hotel room door and Heyes opened it to see a man standing before him, with a shiny silver star pinned to his chest, which was never a good omen.

“Sheriff,” Heyes said, giving him his best innocent smile.

“You Joshua Smith?” the grey-haired man asked, sucking in his stomach as he did so.

“Yes, I am,” Heyes told him wondering what the sheriff wanted with him.

“Well I’ve got a young fella over at the jail says his name’s Thaddeus Jones and he’s a friend of yours.” Kid was in jail! Why? What had happened? Where had they caught him? Heyes tried not to let these thoughts show on his face.

“Thaddeus? Yes, that’s right, he is,” he told the sheriff. “Why is he in jail?”

“Oh he’s not under arrest, if that’s what you mean. No, I found him a few miles out side of town, a bit the worse for wear and brought him back in. The doctor’s over there now taking a look at him.”

“The doctor? What happened?” Heyes did not hide the concern in his voice.

“Took a bit of a bump on the head. Look, why don’t you come over? I think he could do with seeing a friendly face right now.” Heyes had his hat in his hand before the sheriff finished speaking.

***

“Hey there Thaddeus, how you doing?” Heyes asked casually as he approached his partner, but Kid could tell he was worried. The look they exchanged said more than Heyes’ words had.

“I’m okay,” Kid lied. He sat in a wooden chair opposite the sheriff’s desk looking a little groggy. The doctor, a tall dark-haired man in his forties, was packing up his bag that sat on the desk.

“How’s he doing Doc?” Heyes asked.

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Took a bit of a whack on the head but I’ve cleaned up the wound and it’ll heal nicely I’m sure.” He turned to Kid. “You need to get some rest Mr. Jones. Come and see me tomorrow.” He gave a nod to the sheriff and left. Heyes looked at his partner.

“What happened? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” Kid Curry heard the concern in his partner’s voice and slowly shook his head.

“I don’t know,” Kid told him. “I can’t remember.”

“When did you last see Mr. Jones?” the sheriff asked and Heyes thought back to the previous evening.
***

Hannibal Heyes reached forward and pulled the money towards him; Cedar Falls was a nice town to play poker in. He had just won another game and he allowed himself a contented smile. One or two of the players around the saloon table were good, but none were as good as he was. He should come away with a reasonable stake this evening. Enough to pay their food and hotel bill, keep their horses in the livery stable for a few more days and give them time to decide what they wanted to do next. As the dealer dealt the cards, Heyes sat back in his chair, took a sip of whisky and turned his brown eyes across the room towards his partner.

Kid Curry stood at the bar talking to one of the saloon girls. Her name, if he recalled correctly, was Milly and she smelled of rose water. She had clearly taken a shine to his blond, blue-eyed partner. Milly’s smile at that moment hinted of more than a professional interest in the handsome young cowboy. For his part, Kid was being the perfect gentleman. He had bought the girl a drink, as was expected of the customers who wanted to spend time with any of the girls, talked to her and was smiling at her but he kept his hands to himself. Despite Milly’s obvious attempts at flirtation, Kid Curry kept his distance and Heyes could see why.

Milly could not have been more than sixteen years old. She wore enough make up to suggest she was older and had no doubt lied about her age to the saloon owner. The owner was either blind not to have realised how young she was or they were happy to overlook the fact in the interest of a profit. Trust Kid to find a wounded sparrow to look after. Heyes watched as his partner handed a folded bill to the girl. She tucked it quickly away in her clothing and her expression turned serious. Milly shot a look across the room at two men sitting at a corner table. The men had either just arrived in town after a long dusty cattle drive or they were two of the great unwashed. Their dark hair was greasy and their clothes covered in dust and dirt. The older of the two, who appeared to be in his late forties, glared at the girl and she looked quickly away. The younger man, who could have been the other’s son, laughed and instinctively Milly moved closer to Kid.

“You playin’?” Heyes looked up at the dealer, nodded and picked up his cards. The game went once more in his favour and he was soon convinced the man from the railroad, who sat opposite him, was bluffing. Heyes waited as the man revealed his cards with a triumphant smile and reached towards the pot. Heyes put up a hand to stop him and placed his cards face up on the table. The railroad man could not believe what he was seeing. How could this young cowboy have beaten him again? The other men at the table sensed a sudden tension and over his opponents shoulder Heyes saw Kid step around Milly to watch what was going on.

How did he know, Heyes wondered? Kid almost instinctively knew when trouble was brewing. He was always grateful for his partner’s support. Fortunately, it would not be needed this time.

“Is there a problem?” Heyes asked the men at the table. All shook their heads and he pulled the money towards him. The piano player started to pound out a repertoire of badly played tunes and the poker game continued. When Heyes looked up again, Kid and Milly were nowhere to be seen. He shot a look across at the corner table. It was empty.

***

“Where’d you go?” the sheriff asked.

“I don’t know,” Kid told him looking a little lost and confused.

“I think you’d better go get some rest. I’ll ask a few questions at the saloon.” Dobbs said. “We can talk again later.”

Their wanted posters were tacked to the sheriff’s notice board and they gave them a quick glance, as they left his office, and made their way back to the hotel.

“Do you remember what happened to Milly?” Heyes asked as they entered the hotel room.

“Heyes, I didn’t even remember that was her name.” Kid sank down onto his bed and eased himself back. He looked exhausted. Kid Curry was asleep not long after his head hit the pillow. Hannibal Heyes looked at his partner wondering when he should tell him that Milly was missing too.

***

The knock woke Heyes from a light sleep and he stretched his stiff back muscles as he walked towards the door. Kid stirred and gave his partner a questioning look. Heyes shrugged his shoulders. Still a little groggy, Kid reached for Heyes’ gun which hung, in its holster, on the post of his partner’s bed. When his partner was ready, Heyes opened the door.

“Sheriff,” Heyes said when he saw who was there, warning his partner to put the gun away. The grey-haired man did not smile and Heyes instantly knew this was not a social visit. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Mr. Jones awake?” the sheriff asked, entering the room as Heyes stood to one side. Kid was quickly on his feet; the gun still in his hand although he had let it fall to his side.

“Sheriff, what is it?” he asked.

“We found this in the livery stable.” The sheriff held up a shawl watching the young man’s reaction as he did so.

“I don’t understand,” Kid told him but Heyes recognised it as the one Milly had been wearing last night.

“You were with a young girl in the saloon last night,” Milton Dobbs told Kid. “This belonged to her.”

“I still don’t….” but at that moment he saw the red stains on the fabric as the sheriff held up the shawl. It looked like blood.

“Milly is missing, Mr. Jones. You were the last person she was seen with. I have her shawl here covered in blood.” Kid did not know what to say as the sheriff let the facts sink in.

“What are you suggesting Sheriff?” Heyes asked, coming straight to the point.

“Mr. Jones, I’d like you to come over to the jail with me.”

“Why should he do that?” Heyes asked all too sure he knew the reason already. The sheriff stood in front of Kid and spoke directly too him.

“Mr. Jones, I’m placing you under arrest as a suspect in the disappearance of Milly Morganson. I’ll need to take your gun.” Kid stared at Heyes and then at the sheriff. He still said nothing. The problem was he did not remember what had happened.

“I don’t know where she is,” he began. “Joshua I….” Heyes was worried. He had never seen Kid looked so defeated before.

“It’s alright Thaddeus, there is bound to be a simple explanation for this.” He turned to the sheriff. “You have no reason to arrest my partner. What makes you think that has anything to do with him?” He pointed at the shawl.

“I found it hidden under his saddle,” the sheriff told him and drawing his gun, he pointed it at Kid Curry. “Your gun please.” Kid looked at his partner then handed the gun over to the sheriff.

“Actually, that’s mine,” Heyes told him.

“Then you can have it back when we get to my office,” the sheriff told him still looking at Kid Curry. “Shall we go?”

***

“Well, that doesn’t mean anything,” Heyes said following them out of the room. “Anyone could have put it there.”

“Yes, they could,” the sheriff agreed. “But right now the most likely person to have put the shawl under the saddle, is your partner.” He gave Kid a gentle push with his gun as he started down the stairs.

“But you found him out in the middle of nowhere. Someone must have hit him over the head and taken him out there,” Heyes protested.

“Yes, they must, but that’s a different mystery for me to solve.” The sheriff continued walking and Heyes could do no more than follow them down the stairs, out of the hotel and across the street to the sheriff’s office. He watched with a sinking feeling as Deputy Holden led Kid to one of the cells and locked the door once he was safely inside. His partner sat down on a bunk and looked at the floor. Heyes walked over to the cell.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get you out of here,” he told his blond cousin as he leaned against the bars. “There must be a lawyer in this town. I’ll have you out of here as soon as possible.”

“Lawyer Jackson’s out of town,” the sheriff told him having overheard their conversation. “He’s attending a trial over in Samson Valley.” For the first time in many months, Hannibal Heyes had no idea what to do next. He rested his head against the bars of Kid’s cell.

***

The man with the missing front tooth was smiling down at him.

“Did you hear what I said?” he asked. “You stay away from her, you hear? You stay outta our business.”

Kid tried to sit up but his ribs ached and his head hurt. The man bent down; his face close to Kid’s. His hair was lank and greasy; his breath so pungent Kid had to turn his face away.

“D’you hear me?” the man repeated.

“I heard,” Kid said. His jaw was bruised and his head was spinning. Then he heard a scream. “Milly?”

Kid woke up and saw the bars of a jail cell. It took him a moment to remember where he was. Slowly it came back to him. He sat up on the bunk and saw a young man, in a red shirt and brown leather vest, sitting at the sheriff’s desk. The man had blond curly hair and he smiled now at the man in the cell. Dan Holden, that was his name. Deputy Dan Holden.

“D’you want a cup of coffee?” the deputy asked and Kid nodded. The man went over to the stove, poured some into a metal mug then approached the cell. Cautiously he placed it on the floor and pushed it under the cell door. The sheriff had taught him well, Kid thought. He thanked the deputy and savoured the warm liquid as it slid down his throat. It was certainly better than that stuff Heyes made. At the thought of his partner, Kid wondered where he was and what he had managed to find out.

As if hearing his partner’s thoughts, the front door opened and Hannibal Heyes entered the office. He unbuckled his gun belt and placed it on the sheriff’s desk.

“Okay if I see him?” he asked the deputy, waiting for approval.

“Sure,” Dan Holden said. “What you got there?” Heyes showed him what he carried; the deputy checked it and waved him over to the cell. Kid approached the bars.

“How are you?” Heyes asked and Kid shrugged. “Here, I brought you a clean shirt.” He passed the crisp pale blue shirt through the bars to his partner.

“There a gun in here?” Kid asked only partially joking.

“’fraid not.” Kid took off his dirty white shirt and groaned as he did so. Heyes saw the bruises on Kid’s ribs. “D’you remember how you got those?” Kid looked down at the purple marks.

“I was in an alley,” he recalled. “There was a man with a missin’ front tooth. He told me to leave her alone; to stay outta his business. Then I heard a scream. I guess that was Milly.” His partner listened saying nothing. Kid finished buttoning up the shirt.

“That night in the saloon. There were two men sitting at a corner table,” Heyes reminded him.

“Yeah, I remember. Scruffy lookin’….” Kid made the connection Heyes had already done. “It was him, I mean them. The man with the missin’ tooth and there was a younger guy too.”

“Milly’s father and her brother Jethro.” Heyes told him letting the news sink in. “Kid can you remember anything Milly said to you?”

***

“Hi. Wanna buy me a drink?” The young woman sauntered along the bar towards
him; giving him her best smile. Kid Curry looked down at her. She was made up like a saloon girl with a fancy looking shawl around her shoulders but she was clearly no more than a child. She had blue eyes, blond hair and too much flesh showing.

“How old are you?” he asked with concern.

“Eighteen,” she lied and Kid raised his eyebrows.

“How old really?”

“Old enough to starve,” she told him truthfully and Kid knew exactly what she meant. He and his partner had been old enough to ache from hunger, on many occasions. Kid gave her a warm understanding smile.

“Okay,” he said and caught the bartender’s eye. “I’ll have a beer and bring a lemonade for the lady.” Her smile reached her big blue eyes for the first time.

“She only drinks whisky,” the bartender told him.

“Yeah, I thought she might,” Kid said not taking his eyes off her. “In that case I’ll have a beer and bring a whisky for the lady.” He put his money on the bar and the bartender placed the drinks in front of him. Kid took a sip of his but the young girl did not touch hers.

“Not drinkin’?” he asked her.

“I can’t stand the stuff,” she whispered and he laughed warming to her.

“I’m Thaddeus,” he told her.

“Milly.”

“Pleased to meet you, Milly.”

“D’you wanna spend some time with me?” she asked, her mind returning to business.

“Why don’t I just buy you a few drinks tonight, then we can stay here and talk,” he suggested gently. Then bending close to her ear he whispered. “You don’t have to drink ‘em.” Milly gave him a girlish smile again, liking this cowboy and grateful to him.

***

“I didn’t hurt her,” Kid said. He could not remember any more about that night but he knew in his heart that was true.

“I know you didn’t. You don’t need to tell me that,” Heyes told him. He knew his partner too well to even suspect him of that. “Why did you leave the saloon?”

Kid thought about this but nothing came back to him.

“I don’t know.” He rested his head on the bars and keeping his voice low whispered. “Heyes, why is it always this way? Why am I always the one in jail and you’re out there tryin’ to get me out?” Hannibal Heyes smiled.

“That’s easy Kid. It’s because I’m the ‘brains of the outfit’,” he told him and at that moment his young cousin could not disagree with him.

***

“We have to tell the sheriff what you remembered,” Heyes said as the grey-haired lawman entered his office. He exchanged a few words with his young deputy and then strolled over to the men at the cell.

“How are you feelin’ young man?” he asked Kid Curry.

“Better thanks. Gonna let me out?”

“I’m afraid I can’t. Not jus’ yet.”

“My partner remembered something about last night,” Heyes said and they told him about the men in the alley. Having listened to what they had to say, the sheriff addressed Heyes.

“I think I’ll ride out to the Morgansons; see what they have to say.” He looked at Heyes. “Wanna come with me?”

***

At the livery stable, Heyes picked up his saddle and walked towards his horse.

“Wait a minute,” the sheriff told him. “What are you doing?”

“Saddlin’ my horse,” Heyes said obviously.

“Barney!” the sheriff called and a thin man of about sixty years old appeared from a room at the back of the stable.

“Hey sheriff,” he said giving them a toothless grin.

“Barney, do you remember these saddles?” He pointed to the saddle Heyes carried and the one belonging to his partner.

“Sure you were in here earlier askin’ about ‘em. Found that shawl under…well under that one there.” He pointed to the one Heyes carried.

“Remember what you told me?” the sheriff asked patiently.

“Sure do. I said it belonged to a young fella named Jones.” He gave Heyes a closer look. “Why it’s this fella here.”

“Thank you Barney.” The sheriff let him go. He looked at Heyes.

“D’you want to arrest me now?” Heyes asked him, wary now as to what the older man would do.

“No,” the sheriff said turning to saddle his horse.

“I might ask why Thaddeus would hide a bloody shawl under my saddle, where he knew I might find it.” Heyes threw his saddle onto the back of his horse. “He’s not likely to have mixed up which one is his own but others might. One man just did.”

“I know. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You don’t think my partner’s done anything do you?” Heyes said watching the expression on the sheriff’s face.

“No, no I don’t. I think your friend probably tried to help Milly out and got a whack on the head for his trouble.”

“Then why’s he still in jail?” Heyes asked angrily raising his voice as he approached the man.

“For his own protection.” The sheriff kept his tone calm as he faced the dark-haired young man.

“From who?” Heyes demanded to know.

“Stefan Morganson is a nasty piece of work; his son Jethro too. If your friend can point the finger of blame at them and they know he’s alive and not lying dead in the middle of nowhere, they’ll be back to finish him off. Of that I have no doubt.” He met Heyes angry gaze.

“My partner can take care of himself,” Heyes told him.

“Well, he ain’t done much of a job of it up till now, has he?” the sheriff observed. Heyes did not reply as he considered what the lawman had said.

“Why’d you let Milly work at the saloon? You know how young she is,” Heyes remarked deliberately changing the subject.

“I’m not proud of that but she gets a roof over her head, she’s well fed and Beth really looks after her girls. Doesn’t let Milly do anything upstairs, if you get my meanin’?” Heyes did. “Truth be told she’s a lot safer there than with her own family.” He climbed onto his horse. Heyes did not move.

“C’mon, finish saddlin’ your horse and we can go and pay her folks a visit,” the sheriff said.

***

The Morgansons had lived, just off the creek road, for as long as anyone could remember. Old man Morganson had built himself a shack in the hills and set his traps in the woods and along the river before the first families had settled in Cedar Falls. The house that stood on the Morgansons’ land today was a surprisingly sturdy structure and in good repair. Heyes had expected to see a run down cabin but instead they found a well-built single story building with a solid roof, a long front porch and a stone chimney. There were three steps up to a wooden door and outside shutters fixed back to reveal curtains at the windows. It was a credit to the skills of Stefan Morganson’s father and grandfather, who had built the home for their family in more affluent times. The smell of burning wood filled the air, as a wisp of smoke rose from the chimney.

There was a small barn and corral but no horses outside. Several chickens strolled casually between the buildings and a somewhat aloof goat sauntered out of the barn, took one look at the men on horseback, gave a bleat and went back inside. There was no sign of anyone else around.

“Anyone here?” the sheriff called. “Morganson! It’s Sheriff Dobbs.” There was no reply but Heyes saw the curtain twitch at one of the windows. He caught the sheriff’s eye. Dobbs had seen it too. Both men dismounted and drew their guns, aware of the possibility of an ambush or an irate response to the sheriff’s visit. As the sheriff approached the steps, Heyes moved quickly round the back of the house.

“Who’s there?” Dobbs asked. “Open up it’s the sheriff. Stefan Morganson is that you?” Still there was no response and Milton Dobbs reached the door and banged loudly on it with his fist. No one opened it but he heard furniture moving inside. The sheriff turned the handle and quickly opened the door to catch a glimpse of a figure disappearing into one of the back bedrooms.

“Hey!” he called but the figure was gone; then there was the sound of a struggle and a female voice cried out.

“Let me go!”

The sheriff stepped into the doorway of the bedroom to see ‘Joshua Smith’ holding Milly Morganson by the arms as she struggled to get away. A curtain billowed in the air as a sudden breeze blew through the open window Heyes had just climbed through.

“It’s alright Milly, calm down,” the sheriff said and as if turning off a tap all the fight suddenly went out of the girl and she stopped struggling. Heyes let go of her arms and she looked at him, finally realising who he was. Milly dropped her head.

It was Thaddeus’ friend. How could she tell him what had happened? She looked away from him and the man took it as a look of fear, not recognising the shame she felt.

“It’s alright Milly. You’re safe,” the sheriff told her, although he wasn’t sure she believed him. Moving backwards, she sank down onto the bed. Heyes exchanged a look with the lawman agreeing that it was better if the man she knew asked the questions. “Where’s your Pa and Jethro?” Dobbs asked and Milly looked at the sheriff’s kind round face, revealing for the first time the large bruise on her cheek where her Pa had hit her.

“Gone to town,” she stated quietly. They had not passed them on the road in.

“Milly, the other night in town, there was a blond man in the saloon. He bought you some drinks. You left with him. Do you remember?”

“Uh huh.” She looked down at the floor.

“Where’d you go?” She shot the sheriff a look.

“We didn’t…” but she left the rest unsaid.

“I know Milly. It’s alright but something happened didn’t it?” She did not say anything for a moment then, keeping her voice low she began to explain.

“I wanted to see my Mama’s grave and place some flowers on it. I had not been out here since just after she died. My Pa wouldn’t bring me. Thaddeus said he’d take me. It didn’t matter that it was dark. We’d be back by mornin’ and no one would know. My Pa and Jethro would probably be in town all night anyway.” So that’s where they had gone Heyes thought. Trust Kid to play the white knight.

“What happened?” Dobbs asked.

“My Pa followed us. I think he was going to rob Thaddeus but when he saw us on horseback, he got the wrong idea. He thought I was runnin’ away.” She looked at Heyes, then at the sheriff who nodded, encouraging her to go on. Then it all came tumbling out. “Pa pulled me off the horse and hit me. Thaddeus climbed down after me an’ he an’ Pa fought. That’s when Jethro came up behind him and hit him on the head. I don’t know what he used but Thaddeus went down hard. His head was bleeding badly.”

She gave Heyes an apologetic look.

“I used my shawl to…I tried to help him.”

Heyes could imagine Kid lying in the alley, at the mercy of the Morganson men and this young girl standing up to her father to protect his partner.

“Milly?” The young girl had fallen silent. She looked at Heyes as if she did not want to go on with her story.

“They…I’m sorry, I don’t think they meant to kill ‘im. They bundled him onto their wagon then Jethro took his horse back to the livery stable. When Pa saw my shawl, covered in his blood, he took it from me. I don’t know what he did with it but he was real mad at me.” She unconsciously touched her cheek as she turned to the sheriff. “They told me I was part of a murder and I’d hang for sure. No one would believe I hadn’t lured him outside. No one would believe a saloon girl.” She began to cry.

“Milly,” Heyes said gently but the young girl was not listening.

“I’m so sorry about your friend. I really did like him and he was kind to me.” Tears rolled from her blue eyes.

“Milly, Thaddeus isn’t dead,” Heyes told her and she looked at him, confused.

“But they hit him real hard. His head was all bloody and he wasn’t movin’. They told me he was ………” She stopped as he smiled at her.

“Well, Thaddeus is pretty thick skulled,” Heyes told her.

“He’s not dead?”

“No Milly, he’s not.” She smiled at him and then began to cry again and Heyes put his arms around the girl to comfort her.

***

Milly poured them both a cup of coffee. Neither man really wanted one but having something to do seemed to help the young woman compose herself. The two men sat at a long table at the front of the house and watched as Milly returned the pot to the stove and then joined them. She sat at the head of the table, cradling a steaming cup in her hands.

“I’m glad Thaddeus is alright,” she said and Heyes smiled at her.

“Milly, will you come back to town with us?” the sheriff asked. “You don’t have to work at the saloon. I’m sure if I had a word with Mrs. Levenson she’d find somethin’ for you at the dress shop.” Milly looked hopefully at the grey-haired lawman.

“Do you really think so?”

“I’m sure I can persuade her,” he said and there was something in his smile that told Heyes, Sheriff Milton Dobbs was more than just a friend to Mrs. Levenson.

“Sheriff, if my Pa finds out..” She shot a quick look at Heyes.

“Go on Milly,” Heyes prompted, although he had a suspicion he knew what she was going to say, for he was already thinking that way himself.

“If my Pa finds out that Thaddeus is still alive, I don’t know what he’ll do,” she finished. The sheriff considered this.

“When’d he leave? We didn’t pass him comin’ up,” he told her.

“They rode out early this mornin’. They had some traps to check and some…business….to attend to.” Heyes wondered how legal Stefan Morganson’s business might be.

“What do you think?” Heyes asked the older man.

“I think Stefan Morganson is dangerously unpredictable. So, I think we’d best be headin’ back to town.” He turned to the young girl. “Milly get your things.”

***

The door to the sheriff’s office opened and Stefan Morganson walked casually in, followed by his son Jethro. Deputy Holden looked up from his newspaper and swallowed hard when he saw who it was. He put down his coffee cup.

“Howdy deputy,” Jethro said as they came to stand in front of his desk. His speech was a little slurred. Holden stood up and faced the men, his courage must not waver.

“We’re gonna have a word with your prisoner,” Stefan told him, with all the confidence a few beers could buy. He then added almost in jest, “If that’s alright with you?” Behind him his son laughed.

Kid Curry lay on the bunk, his hat over his face as he rested. On hearing the men enter, he raised his hat slightly, with one finger, and peered at them. Instantly recognising them he tensed but showed no outward sign of moving.

“I’ll have to ask you to leave me your guns,” Holden said bravely.

“No, we won’t,” Jethro told him and, pulling his shoulders back, stuck out his chest defiantly.

“Jethro, give him your gun son,” Stefan said and after a hurt look at his father, Jethro passed it to the deputy. Holden looked at the older man and, smiling, Stefan handed his gun to the blond-haired man.

The men approached the cells but Kid stayed where he was.

“Hey you,” Stefan said and Kid raised his hat to look at the slightly drunk men on the other side of the bars. “Get up boy,” Stefan ordered and Kid swung his legs onto the floor and slowly got to his feet, pretending to be more tired than he was.

“Do I know you?” he asked and the older man froze.

“What d’you say?”

“I said do I know you? Look, I’m really sorry if I should, but I took a whack on the head and I can’t remember a darn thing about the last few days.” He gave the men his best ‘gosh darn’ innocent smile.

“Are you tryin’ to be funny?” Morganson asked, sobering slightly.

“No sir. It’s like I said, if I should know you then I’m real sorry I just can’t remember.” Stefan gave an inebriated smile.

“Well I’ll be.” He turned to his son. “Hear that Jethro? He can’t remember a thing.”

“Pa then he can’t….”

“Shut up!” his father warned.

“The Doc said my memory should have come back by now but it hasn’t so I guess I may never remember what happened to me,” Kid told them sadly.

“Why that’s a real shame son,” Stefan Morganson said. “So you ain’t never seen me or my boy here before?”

“Not that I know of. Do you have any idea what happened to me?” Kid asked hopefully.

“No idea at all,” the man said innocently. “Well, we’d best be goin’. C’mon Jethro, let’s leave the deputy in peace.” They moved back to the front of the office, collected their guns and replaced them in their holsters. They gave Kid one last look and, smiling stupidly, left the jail.

“Lock the door!” Kid hissed when they had gone.

“What?” the young deputy asked him. “Why?”

“Because it won’t take ‘em long to wonder why you have me locked up and the state they’re in, they just might decide they’d be better off if I was dead anyway.”

“You don’t know that,” Holden said sceptically.

“Trust me Deputy, they’ll be back and they’ll have to go through you, to get to me. How far are you willin’ to go to protect your prisoner?” Kid asked him. The younger man considered this and locked the door.

“What do we do now? Wait for the sheriff?” Holden asked.

“No. That door won’t hold them for long. There’s one of you and two of them. We have to get outta here,” Kid told him.

“Now wait just a minute. I see what you’re tryin’ to do. You ‘re just tryin’ to find a way to get me to release you; well it ain’t gonna work,” Holden told him and returned to his desk.

“I didn’t say you had to let me go; just take me somewhere else. Somewhere they won’t look.” Dan Holden thought about this for a moment.

“Look, I really don’t know about this. I don’t think…..” Someone rattled the door handle and both men looked at the figure of Stefan Morganson, silhouetted behind the door. Kid looked at the deputy, waiting for him to decide what to do.

“D’you want a shoot out here?” Kid asked him. “There’s not much cover once they get through the door but I suppose we could put these bunks on their side and..” Holden made up his mind.

“We could go to the saloon. Beth will hide us,” he said and began to unlock the cell door, then stopped. “I think I’d better put the handcuffs on you.” Kid nodded.

He stood by the cell door his wrists held out for the younger man. It pained Kid to see how easy it would have been for him to take the inexperienced deputy’s gun and be free, but Kid Curry had enough problems without that. The last thing he needed was a sheriff riding after Thaddeus Jones too. More importantly, Heyes would be as mad as hell at him and his head still ached enough as it was, without his partner nagging on at him for days on end about it. So for his partner’s sake, and a quiet life, Kid stayed a prisoner.

Holden pointed his gun at Kid and led him to the back door. The young man still looked torn about what to do, when the door handle rattled again.

“Deputy, open up!” Morganson shouted. He was sober enough now and there was anger in his voice. “Open up or I’ll break this door down.” Holden was convinced now.

“Let’s go,” he said and opened the back door.

They stepped out into the alley that ran behind the jail, general store and the doctor’s office. The deputy pushed Kid in front of him and they ran along the alley, keeping close to the walls of the buildings. They heard a door break and knew Morganson was in the jail. Then a voice cried out behind them.

“Jethro! They’re gone!” They knew they had to keep running.

***

Deputy Holden and his prisoner ran down the alley until they reached a break in the buildings. Another smaller alley led between the doctor’s office and a ladies dress shop.

“Go on,” Holden said urging Kid forward and then, once more, they heard Morganson’s voice behind them.

“Deputy!” They disappeared into the narrow alley and Kid stopped when they reached the main street. Peering round the edge of the building, he saw Jethro moving towards them.

“It’s the son,” he whispered and saw panic in the young deputy’s eyes. Jethro Morganson was closing in on them out in front and his father was about to cut them off at the rear. Kid had been in similar situations before, usually running from the law, not running with it but he felt vulnerable without a gun and his hands bound together. He looked around the building once again and a shot just missed his head. Jethro approached more cautiously.

“Give me your gun,” Kid said.

“No.” Dan Holden was adamant about that.

“Then you shoot him!” Kid told him and pulled Holden in front of him. The deputy looked around the corner and fired off a couple of shots. Jethro dived for cover behind a horse trough.

“C’mon!” Kid said dragging the young man along the boardwalk in front of the dress shop. Kid looked back, saw Stefan appear from the alley and pulled the deputy behind a wagon.

“Stop them!” Morganson shouted but no one was about to listen to the scruffy man they all knew as a troublemaker. Most people were running for cover inside a building, not wishing to be part of a gunfight. Jethro ran up behind his father as Holden and Kid crept behind the wagon.

“I knew that man was lyin’,” Stefan told his son. “He remembers us alright; so we’re gonna hafta finish this for good.”

Across the street, doors to the saloon beckoned the deputy and his prisoner.

“Think we could make it?” Holden asked. Kid looked at him sceptically and then looked around for alternatives. They could make a dash across the main street to the saloon but they would be out in the open; exposed and probably cut down before they got there. Beyond the wagon there were three horses tied up to a post.

“It’s too risky to try for the saloon. I say we use those horses as cover and make for the livery stable.” It was Holden’s turn to look sceptical now.

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah, well I’ve done this kinda thing before, so c’mon,” he said leading the way to the horses. Kid pulled their reins free from the hitching post and they walked the horses towards the stable. The Morgansons’ soon spotted them. Stefan stalked them along the boardwalk in front of the stores. Jethro ran down the main street and when a chance arose, much to the horror of the locals, he fired at his quarry. Kid heard the deputy cry out and saw him stumble as he was hit. The young man grasped his leg where Jethro’s bullet had penetrated.

“Get up!” Kid yelled, as he dragged the man to his feet, one hand still holding onto the horses.

“I can’t,” Holden moaned but Kid pulled him along.

“Yes you can, or you’ll die right here,” Kid told him. “Dammit man c’mon or think what I’ll hafta tell your folks.” The deputy did not want to die or have this man tell his folks anything and he staggered after Kid.

They reached the livery stable and stumbled inside as the horses found their way to a tempting bale of hay. Deputy Holden sank down on another bale and held his left thigh, blood running between his fingers.

“Take these off me,” Kid said holding out the handcuffs.

“I can’t,” Holden told him.

“Take ‘em off dammit or we’re both gonna die.”

“I can’t, I don’t have the key.” Kid looked at him incredulously. “They’re in the drawer of the sheriff’s desk.”

Kid shook his head in disbelief and leant back against a wooden partition. He let out a long sigh and then he pushed himself up and kicked a bucket across the stable. Barney appeared from his room at the back of the building.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” He saw the young deputy. “You hurt Dan?”

“Yeah Barney, Jethro Morganson shot me.”

“Give me your gun,” Kid said peering down the street watching the Morgansons’ approach.

“I can’t give you my gun. You’re still my prisoner,” the young man said despite how much he was hurting.

“Barney, d’you have a gun?” Kid asked and the old man looked at the handcuffs on his wrists. He shook his head, and Kid looked outside again and a bullet hit the wall. Stefan Morganson had disappeared and Jethro was still approaching cautiously. Kid knew Stefan would be making his way around the back. They would soon be sitting ducks. “Barney, you hafta give me a gun.”

“No sir, I can’t give the deputy’s prisoner a gun.” Kid looked again at the young lawman.

“I’m sorry,” he said to the young man and then he kicked his injured leg. Dan cried out in pain and Kid wrenched the gun from his hand. He turned to the old stable man. “Barney, help me get ‘im in there,” he said and between them, they dragged Holden, into the relative safety of a stall.

“Whatta you gonna do?” the old man asked and Kid saw the fear and confusion in his eyes.

“Try an’ save our lives,” Kid stated truthfully. “Look after him, and get the rest of his bullets from his belt. I’m gonna need ‘em.” Kid looked cautiously out of the stall and saw Jethro. He fired off a shot and Jethro dove for cover behind a fence at the blacksmith’s across the street. Kid ran to the back of the livery stable, grabbing a handful of bullets from Barney, on the way. There was no sign of Stefan but he knew he was there. It was going to be hard to cover both exits.
POSTED TO HERE

***

As Hannibal Heyes, Sheriff Milton Dobbs and young Milly Morganson rode into town they heard shots fired. Heyes and the Sheriff exchanged a concerned look and spurred their horses in the direction of the shooting. A large bald man running out from the saloon stopped them. It was Gordon Kirkwood the bartender. He waved the sheriff to a halt.

“The Morgansons’ have got your deputy and his prisoner, cornered at the livery stable. I think Barney’s in there too,” Kirkwood told them. The sheriff helped Milly down from the saddle.

“Stay here,” he ordered, then, without a word, Heyes and the sheriff spurred their horses towards the livery stable.

As they approached, they saw Jethro Morganson hiding behind the blacksmith’s fence, taking the occasional shot at the stable.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” the sheriff bellowed and Jethro froze unsure what to do now. “Jethro Morganson, stop that shooting and come out with your hands up,” Dobbs ordered, his gun raised and pointed at the young man. Jethro looked desperately towards the stable for his father. There was no sign of the older Morganson and no sign of movement in the stable. Then Barney’s familiar figure appeared in the doorway; his hands raised above his head.

“Don’t shoot Sheriff! It’s me Barney,” he called. “Mr. Smith says I’m to come get ya. Dan’s been shot and we need the doctor.” The sheriff looked back at the real Mr. Smith but he had turned his horse and was riding away.

Heyes rode down the alley between the dress shop and the doctor’s office, then along the alley behind the buildings. As he reached the livery, he pulled his horse to a halt and dropped down from the saddle. He knew Kid would not come out of the stable if he thought his back was exposed. Neither of them had ever been comfortable with the idea of being shot in the back. Heyes’ gun was in his hand as he crept forward. Kid peered out from the stable, Heyes heard the crack of a shot and his partner disappeared from view. Heyes scanned the possible hiding places. An outhouse, a dilapidated tool shed and a few scrawny bushes. He bet on the tool shed and approached it cautiously, arriving just as the door eased open an inch and the barrel of a gun poked out. Heyes waited until he saw a man’s hand, then he shoved hard against the door. There was a cry of pain and Heyes threw open the door his gun trained on Stefan Morganson.

“Howdy,” he said pleasantly at the man lying on the ground, holding his bruised hand. Heyes bent down and picked up Morganson’s discarded gun.

***

The Morgansons’ were in the sheriff’s care. The doctor was tending to Dan Holden’s leg and Barney was regaling anyone who would listen, to the tale of the Cedar Falls Shoot-Out.

Hannibal Heyes spotted Kid Curry, his hands still shackled together, leaning exhausted against the stable wall. He looked ready to drop. Heyes smiled at him as he approached, well aware of what his cousin had been through and grateful he had come out of it in one piece.

“What kept you?” Kid asked and then smiled equally grateful to see Heyes.

“You alright?” the dark-haired man asked, his brown eyes studying his friend.

“Yeah. Can you get these things off me?” Kid held up his wrists to reveal the handcuffs. Heyes turned to look for the sheriff and found the lawman walking towards them. As he drew near, Dobbs pulled his gun and pointed it at Kid Curry.

“Drop the gun please, Mr. Jones.” The two ex-outlaws froze. Was their own private nightmare about to come true? Reluctantly Kid let the gun drop onto a nearby bale of hay.

“Sheriff, you have no reason to hold my partner anymore,” Heyes told him.

“Never said I did,” the grey-haired man replied. “Just don’t wanna get shot with my deputy’s gun. Emotions are running high y’know.” He looked at the handcuffs around Kid’s wrists and then turned to see his deputy being carried away to the doctor’s office.

“Sheriff?” Heyes said and Dobbs looked kindly at the two men.

“I guess we’d better get those things off you.” He pointed at the handcuffs. Then his voice turned serious. “Mr. Jones, I’d like to thank you for savin’ Dan’s life. He doesn’t have a lot of experience yet, so he doesn’t always see the danger. He’ll be a good lawman given time.”

“I’m sure he will,” Kid agreed and he raised the handcuffs towards the sheriff expectantly.

***

Milly placed the flowers on the grave and stood up. She knew they were there, just a few feet away, keeping an eye on her again, but this time there was no need to; no one would trouble her now that her father and brother were locked up in the jail. Milly touched her cheek; the bruise was beginning to fade. She did not have to creep around anymore. They would take her back to town in a minute, to her new job at the dress shop and then they would be gone. Thaddeus and his partner were leaving today. She would miss him and be ever grateful for the kindness he had shown her. She turned and smiled at them. Thaddeus shifted in the saddle and then he winked at her. Milly’s smile grew wider. Hannibal Heyes looked sideways at his partner. The fastest gun in the west was a real soft touch at times.

THE END

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