Nephratitis: Bad Things Happen


The very first Maz McCoy Alias Smith and Jones Story

Nephratitis: Bad Things Happen

By Maz McCoy

The posse had been on their tail for two days now and no matter what they did, despite every trick they knew, they could not seem to shake it. As their own horses tired, the posse was slowly gaining on them and there was only one other thing left for them to try. However, neither man wanted to be the first to admit it, either to himself or to his partner. Neither man liked the idea of separating from the only person he trusted to watch his back, the only other person he truly cared about.

A shot blew Hannibal Heyes’ hat off and he pulled his horse sharply into the trees. Leaping off the animal he crept slowly back to retrieve his hat. The posse had been taking wild shots at them for the last hour hoping someone might get lucky and hit one of their quarry. Heyes was just glad none of them seemed to be as good a shot as himself or Kid.

“That’s it Kid, we have to split up and separate this posse. I don’t see how else we’re going to get away from them,” Heyes said hitting his hat against his leg and removing a cloud of dust as he did so. Another shot went wide hitting a nearby tree stump.

“I don’t like it Heyes, bad things happen when we split up,” his partner, Kid Curry, pointed out as Heyes remounted his horse.

“Well bad things are happening now and we’re together.” The dark-haired man could see Kid was not convinced. “Look we’ll give these guys a real run for their money, lose them and meet up in Twin Forks in a day or so. First one there gets a room at the hotel and buys the drinks. What do you say?” Kid Curry rested his arms on his saddle horn and looked at his partner and he knew, Heyes knew, exactly what he wanted to say. We should stick together. Kid held Heyes’ gaze, the look saying more than he could put into words and then he nodded.

“All right Heyes, we’ll split up,” his blond-haired partner said. Heyes nodded in satisfaction but it was not a victory he wanted to win. “I’ll make sure to get us a decent room but you are buying the drinks.”

“What makes you think you’ll get there first?” Heyes asked indignantly but Kid just smiled at him.

“Take care of yourself Heyes. Remember, I won’t be there to watch your back.” They held each others’ gaze for a moment, no more words necessary, before riding off in opposite directions.

***

It did not take long for the posse to realise that their quarry had separated. The twelve men following the two ex-outlaws also split up, and from his position at the top of a hill Kid Curry watched, as six raced after Heyes whilst the others were soon equally hot on his trail. Kid pushed his horse hard but the animal was already tired and he knew he was asking too much of it. He just hoped it had a little more in reserve because they were both going to need it. As Kid urged the horse gently down a slope, the tired animal lost its footing on loose rocks, stumbled and fell. Kid was thrown hard and lay still momentarily stunned at being slammed onto his back. Slowly he pulled himself to his feet and a bullet hit the rocks beside him. Lucky to find himself surrounded by several rocky outcrops Kid dived for cover. Scanning the tree line above him, he spotted first one man and then a second hiding in the limited cover. There did not seem to be any more. They must have ridden on ahead of the others.

Another bullet ricocheted off the rocks behind him and Kid ducked down. His horse, having recovered from the fall, was quietly enjoying some grass, as though nothing had happened, just a few tantalising yards away. Kid knew he had to reach it. If the men kept him pinned down long enough for the others to catch up to them, he would be in real trouble. Kid drew his gun, checked it was fully loaded, even though he knew that it would be, and he let off a few well aimed shots. The men took cover and he ran.

Bullets whizzed about him and Kid was breathing hard as he skidded to a stop behind the large boulders. A cloud of dust rose around him. So far, so good. He peered over the top of the boulder and fired again. He reloaded his gun, took a deep breath, fired four times and began to run. He just hoped his horse stayed where it was. So far it did not seem bothered by the shooting but if it decided to take off……

A searing pain in his side pulled Kid up sharp, as the bullet dug deep. He stumbled but kept running and crashed to the ground behind a large tree stump. Reaching into his gun belt for more bullets he glanced momentarily at the blood staining the front of his shirt, on the right side just above his waist. Kid reloaded. He drew a deep breath and then grimaced with pain. Kid felt his side. There was no exit wound. The bullet was still in there.

“Dammit Heyes,” he said aloud. “I told you bad things happen when we split up.” Kid pulled himself to his feet. Oh that hurt. He took aim, fired one last time and ran for his horse. Throwing himself into the saddle, he spurred the animal on, keeping low over its neck to avoid the bullets that flew around him. Fortunately no more found their target and he was soon out of range and riding hard, hoping to put as much distance between them as possible.

***

By some miracle Kid was sure he had lost the men chasing him. His horse had somehow found a new lease of life, after the short stop for grass, and they had raced across a wide open plain before climbing up into the tree line of some hills. All the while Kid fought off waves of nausea and the endless pain in his side as he pushed the horse on. Now, a little more confident that he had lost them, Kid pulled his horse to a halt and slid out of the saddle. He cried out in pain as his feet hit the ground, jarring his body. Searching through his saddle bags he found a shirt with which to pad the wound and help to staunch the flow of blood. And there was a lot of blood. Kid had been shot enough times to know he was bleeding badly. He had to get the bullet out and the bleeding stopped or he would be in real trouble. Not that he wasn’t in real trouble now. Kid pushed the old shirt inside the bloodstained one he wore and pressed down a little harder on the wound than he intended. Crying out he doubled over in agony.

***

Heyes’ horse was flying as he clung on tight to the reins. The posse was still chasing him and he could not afford to slacken the pace. All the time Heyes kept thinking of his partner. Had they done the right thing? It felt wrong without Kid riding beside him, his hat pushed down on his head, one eye on the posse, always there watching each other’s back. Was Kid all right? Had he gotten away? Heyes hoped so. He knew that his cousin had not wanted them to separate but he had agreed because Heyes had thought it was right. A bullet whizzed passed his head. Heyes’ thoughts returned to his own survival and he urged his horse on.

***

Kid opened his eyes and saw stars. Moving to stand, he groaned as the pain ripped through his side. He rested his head back on the tree he was leaning against and waited for the pain to ease. Where was Heyes when you needed him? Kid smiled to himself. He hoped Heyes was well away from the posse by now, safe in Twin Forks in a room with a nice soft bed. Knowing his partner, he’d be at a poker table instead of resting. As much as Kid could do with his partner’s help, he would not wish him back into any danger.

“Heyes, I just hope you win enough money to buy me breakfast,” he said aloud.

His horse stood quietly nearby and he was grateful for its loyalty to the man who had ridden it half to death. Kid stumbled towards it and as he approached, the horse turned its head towards him.

“Hey girl, keep still okay, cos I don’t think I’m going to be able to get on if you start wandering about.” The horse turned its head away but gave a nod which Kid took as an agreement. He grasped the saddle horn and tried to raise his foot into the stirrup but that meant putting all his weight onto his right side, and that was proving just a little painful. Kid groaned and tried again. He was successful on his third attempt and felt his warm blood soaking into the leg of his jeans. The horse moved forward into the approaching darkness.

Kid was fighting to stay conscious when he reached the farm. It was dark now, although the moon did its best to reflect some light onto the trees around him. He emerged from the trees to find a small clearing, a wooden cabin and a barn with an adjoining corral. It was a simple homestead but it looked like heaven to Kid Curry. There were no lights on in the cabin and Kid rode quietly towards the barn. He just needed a place to rest for the night. In the morning he would head for Twin Forks and hopefully find a doctor. Sliding from the saddle and pushing open the barn door, which gave no more than a small creak, he led his horse inside and stumbled his way to the nearest empty stall. Kid Curry was unconscious before his body hit the hay.

***

Heyes sat back in the bath tub enjoying the warmth of the water on his aching muscles. He congratulated himself on his choice of Twin Forks as the meeting place. He had a nice room at the front of the hotel overlooking the main street; he had never heard of the sheriff and the local poker players were so bad, they were going to provide him with a regular income. As he took the cigar from his mouth he sighed. He just hoped Kid turned up soon.

Heyes had managed to shake the posse not long after they had separated. He had discovered a cave hidden from the main trail and simply waited long enough for the posse to, first pass him and then ride back in the opposite direction, once they had lost him. It had been as simple as that and he still found it hard to believe. Men who for two days had pursued them relentlessly, suddenly seemed amateurish in their attempt to find him. Then they were heading back in the direction of their own town whilst Heyes sat watching them from his hiding place on a hill top. Clearly none of them was as good at tracking as he had thought. He hoped Kid had been as lucky but a feeling of dread gnawed at him and he could not shake Kid’s words as easily as he had the posse. Bad things happen when we split up.

***

A horse whinnied in the distance and Kid opened his eyes to stare at wooden rafters above him and the rays of sunlight streaming in through the roof. He could smell hay, horses and horse dung. His head was spinning and he was having difficulty focussing. He felt awful. Kid turned onto his left side, cried out in pain as something tried to rip him in two, and he found himself staring into the face of a grey haired woman. The woman remained motionless just outside the stall for a moment and then turned quickly to leave.

“Jacob!” she yelled.

“No, wait!” Kid called out to her in desperation. “Stop, please!” He dragged himself to his feet, realised that his shirt was soaked with blood and somehow managed to stagger out of the stall after her. With one hand clutched firmly at his side, Kid stumbled in the direction the woman had gone.

“Hold it right there mister,” said a woman’s voice and Kid found himself staring into the barrel of a shotgun. “Get your hands up,” the grey haired woman ordered and Kid raised his right hand.

“Both of them,” she commanded but the wavering shotgun betrayed the fear she felt.

Kid’s eyes fixed on her finger, trembling slightly on the trigger. He slowly removed his left hand from his side. The finger shifted on the trigger. Kid turned his bloody palm towards her and the woman focussed for the first time on his blood stained shirt, took in the pallor of his skin and the pain etched on his sweat stained face.

“Ma’am, please,” Kid said weakly before his knees gave way and darkness overtook him.

***

“Who do you think he is?” Beth Chorley asked her husband as she stared down at the young man.

“I don’t know but you don’t get shot for nothing. Whoever did this may be looking for him. He could be a wanted man for all we know,” Jacob Chorley replied, noting the gun belt tied down low on the young man’s leg and the fancy gun still in its holster. He had come running when he heard his wife call out to him, and found Beth leaning over the young man, his shirt soaked in blood and Beth with the shot gun still in her hands. Noticing the shocked look on his face, Beth had scoffed at her husband of forty two years.

“Oh, don’t be fretting Jacob, I didn’t shoot him. Come on help me get him into the stall.” They had placed the young man on a blanket on the hay, fashioned another into a pillow, and now Beth was gently opening his shirt, easing the fabric away from his skin, so that she could get a better look at his wound. “He reminds me a little of William,” she said and her husband gave an almost unnoticeable nod. He had seen the resemblance to their son too. Similar facial features and the same colour hair, with curls his mother had hoped would not grow out.

“About the same age as William was,” Jacob replied, his voice so quiet Beth was not sure if he had actually said anything or whether it was her own thoughts she heard.

“I’ll get some bandages. This wound needs cleaning and then you’ll have to go into town for the doctor.” Her mind was made up and she stood up.

“I’ll speak to the sheriff too,” Jacob told her and Beth gave him a look that asked if he really needed to do that. “Like I said Beth, we don’t know who he is. He could be wanted, he could be dangerous.” He held up his hand as she started to speak.

“I know he may not be dangerous now but we know nothing about him.”

“He could also be an innocent victim,” she pointed out.

“Well, we can leave that for the sheriff to decide. Now come on, I’ll help you clean him up and then get the horse saddled. Guess that horse over there belongs to this fella too.” He paused and turned to look at his wife. “Beth if anyone comes here whilst I’m gone…” He left the rest unsaid. Beth smiled at him and picked up the shot gun.

“I know what to do,” she assured him.

***

Heyes could not believe how bad the poker players in Twin Forks were. It was a positive crime against the game. None of them had anything resembling a poker face. The plump man opposite him, who turned out to be the manager of the bank, would smile every time he had a good hand, and the two ranch hands, from the Circle Z, gave each other a nod when they were dealt the right cards. Heyes reached across the table and pulled the pot he had just won towards him.

“Boy, you sure are lucky mister,” one of the ranch hands said. Heyes thought he had heard his partner call him Billy.

Heyes gave him his ‘thank you kindly’ smile.

“Well I guess it’s just my turn today,” he said with as much sincerity as he could manage. “Maybe you’ll be lucky in the next game.” He knew there would be a next game. Along with a complete lack of a poker face came the inability of any at the table, with the exception of Heyes, to know when to quit. The pots were small but Heyes had already won enough to keep him, and Kid, in food and board for a month.

When his thoughts returned to Kid, Heyes got that bad feeling again. He had hoped Kid would be here by now. He knew the other half of the posse may not have given up so easily, and presumably had the better tracker, but even so…. Oh hell, he was worried. They had split up before and been reunited a few days later; one of them usually a little more tired and dusty than the other, but none the worse for wear. Heyes just could not shake the thought that this time something had gone wrong and it was his fault. He had suggested they split up and Kid had not wanted to. He knew it, he had seen it in his eyes, but Kid also had faith in Heyes and he had gone along with him because Heyes had thought it was for the best. Well what if he was wrong? What if it was a dumb thing to do?

“Are you playing mister?” the dealer asked bringing Heyes thoughts back to the game.

“Deal me out of this one, fellas,” Heyes said and pushing his chair back rose to his feet. “I need some fresh air.”

Heyes sat on the porch in front of the hotel reading the local newspaper. Tyler Mason had escaped from jail in Fraser Junction. Reports suggested he was helped by the Blackstone brothers. Sheriff Newman of Fraser Junction had been killed in the escape and a posse had set out after Mason but had returned when they had lost the trail. Mason was considered extremely dangerous and some people suggested he may return to Twin Forks, where he had been arrested, six months ago and where his brother had been shot and killed by Sheriff Ellis Henry. Terrific, just what they did not need, the Sheriff with his hand twitching on his gun watching out for anyone new in town. There followed a detailed description of Tyler Mason and the Blackstone brothers, Bobby and Clay, along with a list of the bad deeds they were known to have done.

There was nothing in the newspaper about any possible sightings of Heyes and Curry. If Kid had been captured it was too soon for it to have made the papers. Heyes stopped himself. What was he thinking? Kid was not going to get captured. These negative thoughts had to stop.

It was starting to rain, when a grey-haired man, in a battered hat, rode in fast, on a worn out old horse. Something about that just made Heyes take notice. The man, probably in his early sixties, was too old to be riding so fast. He had a worried look on his face too. The man went into the doctor’s office. Well that explained it, someone was sick or hurt. Heyes watched as a few moments later the man emerged from the doctor’s and made his way down the street to the sheriff’s office. Now that was curious. Why would someone need the doctor and the sheriff? Hairs were beginning to stand up on the back of Heyes’ neck. Something was wrong. Bad things happen when we split up.

Heyes pushed himself up and threw the newspaper onto his seat. He ran through the rain to the doctor’s office and startled the doctor, as he threw open the door. The doctor, a stout man in his early fifties with a retreating hairline, looked up from his desk as Heyes entered the room. The door of a cabinet was open behind him and he was taking items from the cabinet and placing them into his old brown doctor’s bag.

“I’m sorry young man but I’m just about to leave. If it’s not an emergency can you come back tomorrow?” the doctor asked.

“No Doc, I’m not ill. I just thought I saw a friend of mine come in here and I thought something might be wrong,” Heyes informed him.

“Jacob Chorley?” the doctor asked volunteering the man’s name, for which Heyes could have hugged him.

“Yep, Jacob,” Heyes gave the doctor one of his most friendly smiles. “I saw him head in here. I hope he’s all right?”

“Jacob’s got a wounded man out at his farm,” Heyes’ heart missed a beat and a tightness clasped at his chest at the doctor’s words.

“A wounded man? Do you know who it is?”

“No. Apparently he just showed up; bullet wound in his side. I’m putting together some things to take out there. ‘Course he’s worried about Beth.” Suddenly the doctor looked up as if seeing Heyes for the first time. “Do I know you?”

“No, Doc,” Heyes admitted. “I’m new in town. I helped Jacob out at his farm a few weeks back. Really got to like the man. Say do you think the wounded man is Tyler Mason?”

“No. I asked Jacob that but he does not fit the description. Seems….” but Heyes had already left.

***

“Gaining on us,” Kid mumbled as his head tossed from side to side and the fever burned within him. Beth Chorley listened and hushed him, as she wiped a cool cloth over his forehead. She had cleaned and dressed the bullet wound as best she could. It was clear the bullet was still in his side but she would wait and let the doctor remove it. She had his shirt soaking in a bucket by the door but she did not see how she would get all of the blood out. Beth guessed that was the least of the young man’s worries right now. He was a handsome young man and she imagined he had broken more than his share of young girl’s hearts, and he did so remind her of her son William. William had been a fine strong man, so good natured with an infectious laugh and a smile that just lit up a room. He would have done anything to help anyone…….

“Shouldn’t split…shouldn’t split up.” Kid’s semi-conscious ramblings brought Beth back to the present. William would have helped anyone and this man was fighting for his life. Beth was determined to help him win that battle. He probably had an infection. His side felt hot and he was already running a fever. Beth placed the cool cloth on his forehead and left it there in the hope it would cool him down.

“Heyes,” Kid said. “Can’t shake ‘em. Heyes.” Beth heard the name and thought about her husband’s words. He had suggested the man might be wanted. Heyes? She had heard that name before and connected with a wanted man. Did this young man know the outlaw Hannibal Heyes or was it just an innocent person also called Heyes he was speaking of? If so, who was gaining on them? Who couldn’t he shake? As if to answer her questions Kid continued to talk.

“Can’t shake the posse, Heyes. Shouldn’t split…can’t keep going. Gotta rest. Gotta….rest.”

“You’re safe now son,” Beth said. “You rest easy. No one will harm you here.” He looked so much like William.

***

Don’t look at the wanted posters, Heyes told himself and repeated it over and over in his head like a mantra as his hand turned the door handle of the sheriff’s office.

“Howdy Sheriff,” he said, smiling good naturedly, as he walked up to the older man’s desk. The Sheriff was in his late forties with an expanding waistline, black hair and an equally black moustache that curled up slightly at either end, giving him the appearance of a Mexican bandit Heyes had known. Ellis Henry’s hand had been resting on the handle of his gun from the moment the door opened. Keeping it there, he stood up and looked at Heyes.

“Do I know you mister?” the Sheriff asked and the newspaper article came flooding back to the ex-train robber. The Sheriff was apt to be a little nervous about strangers at the moment. Heyes gave him his best innocent smile.

“No, Sheriff, I’m new in town, only got in yesterday.” This did nothing to allay the Sheriff’s fears that the man before him was not to be trusted. “I’m looking for Jacob Chorley.” At the mention of Jacob’s name the Sheriff visibly relaxed. His shoulders lowered and he emitted a sigh.

“Jacob?” he asked finally removing his hand from his gun.

“Yes. I was told he headed in here after he left the doctor’s office.” Heyes decided that was all he needed to volunteer and the Sheriff, still relieved not to be facing down Tyler Mason and his gang, could not have been more helpful.

“He headed over to the livery stable to get a fresh horse.”

“The Doc said he had a wounded man out at his farm?” Heyes said.

“Yep, they found him in the barn this morning, bullet wound in his side.” Heyes tried not to show too much concern. “Doc’s going out there with him. I’ll probably take a look later, see if we know him.” With that he turned to the wanted posters on the wall. The one for Hannibal Heyes was just to the left of that for Kid Curry.

“Say, are you a friend of Jacob’s?” the Sheriff asked.

“No, Sheriff,” Heyes said, his voice turning serious. “I’m here on official business.” Heyes reached out and offered his hand to the Sheriff. “I’m Joshua Smith of the Bannerman Detective Agency.”

“A Bannerman man?” The Sheriff sounded impressed and a little relieved to have him in town at this time.

“I’ll be honest with you Sheriff I’m worried that the man out at Jacob Chorley’s farm may be my partner.” Heyes walked to stand with his back to the cells and the Sheriff had to turn away from the wanted posters to see him.

“Your partner?”

“Yes. We’re working for Sheriff Lom Trevors up in Porterville.”

“I’ve heard of Lom. Good man so they tell me.”

“One of the best, Sheriff. Anyway we were on the trail of a couple of outlaws and we had to split up. We arranged to meet here but my partner hasn’t showed and when I heard about a wounded man….” He stopped talking and didn’t need to make up the concern that was on his face. “Sheriff, would you mind if I rode out to the farm with Mr. Chorley?”

“No problem at all Mr. Smith. I can understand your concern, had a good partner myself once. ‘Course if it isn’t him maybe you could take a look at some of the wanted posters I’ve got here and see if you recognise the fella? Be good to have a Bannerman man on the case.” He was turning back to the posters and Heyes wanted to stop him.

“I sure will Sheriff.” He grabbed the Sheriff’s hand and began to shake it enthusiastically. “We lawmen must stick together. You know I’m going to mention your name to Mr. Bannerman when I see him.”

“You would?”

“Oh, yes, Sheriff I would.” Heyes put his hand on the door handle. “Over at the livery you say?”

“Yes, tell Jacob I sent you.”

“Thank you kindly Sheriff, I will.”

***

He was so like her son. Beth knew how she’d feel if it were William lying here, sweat running off his pain etched face. He’d gone into the bank to get money for some feed for the horses. Jacob would have gone, only he was laid up with a broken leg after the fall from the roof. The bank robbers came in as William reached the counter. They shoved him aside and he pushed the man back, not realising who they were or why they were there. They shot him. One bullet and her son was dead. They never caught the bank robbers.

Beth took Kid’s hand in hers as he fought the pain. His grip tightened and for a brief moment his eyes opened and he looked at her.

“It’s all right, William,” she said giving him a smile. “I’ll look after you.”

***

“Jacob Chorley?”

The older man turned around to see who had called his name and came face to face with Hannibal Heyes, although he had no idea who the man in the black hat was. He stood perfectly still and waited for the stranger to make the next move.

“Jacob Chorley?” Heyes asked again.

“That’s me.” Jacob had lived in the west all his life and he knew you had to be wary of strangers. The stranger gave a relieved smile.

“Boy, am I glad to have caught you. Sheriff Henry told me you headed this way but I thought I might have missed you.” Heyes held out his hand. “Joshua Smith, of the Bannerman Detective Agency. Real pleased to meet you, sir.”

Jacob shook his hand a little confused as to why this young fella seemed so pleased to meet him.

“A Bannerman Man?” Heyes nodded. “You say the Sheriff sent you to me?”

“Yes sir. I heard you had an injured man at your farm.”

“We do. The Doc’s going to ride out with me to take a look at him.”

“Well sir,” Heyes said remaining respectful to the older man as he let a little worry show on his face. The change of expression was not lost on Jacob Chorley. “I think he may be my partner.”

“Your partner?”

“Yes sir. You see we were on the trail of a couple of desperate men and had to split up. There was no sign of them on the trail I took, so I guess my partner must have been right behind them, maybe caught up with them too. We were supposed to meet here but he hasn’t shown up.”

“Well the man at my farm has been shot; pretty bad too from the amount of blood he’s lost.” Heyes didn’t bother to hide his concern at the news.

“Could you describe him for me?”

“Oh, yes, blond curly hair, wearing a white shirt, has a real fancy looking gun, brown hat that’s kind of floppy. Are you all right Mr. Smith?” Heyes was no longer listening. It was Kid, he had no doubt of that now. Shot pretty bad. Lost a lot of blood. Bad things happen when we split up. Heyes looked up at Jacob.

“How soon can we leave?” he asked him and at that moment the doctor arrived with the battered brown bag in one hand and a long black coat in the other.

***

Ellis Henry watched Heyes leave and shook his head. A Bannerman man. Here in Twin Forks, imagine that. At least there would be someone else around to call upon should things………The Sheriff was looking at the wanted posters; reading them without even knowing that he was. 5 feet, 11 inches, dark brown hair, brown eyes and even features. 160lbs. Why that could be Mr. Smith himself if he didn’t know differently. The Sheriff looked towards the door through which Heyes had left just a few minutes ago. He didn’t know differently. Nor did he know for sure that Mr. Smith was who he said he was. He had not shown him any credentials but he had mentioned Lom Trevors and Ellis Henry knew Lom by reputation. He was a good, decent man and a well respected lawman. Ellis Henry had also been a lawman a long time and he knew he should check on Mr. Smith; not just take him at face value. Dammit was he getting jittery with Tyler Mason on the loose? No, he was just being cautious. Maybe he’d send a telegram to Trevors, just to check on Mr. Smith’s story. It couldn’t hurt.

***

There was a man standing in the shadows. Kid could not see him but he knew he was there; it was that sixth sense he had when trouble was around. Kid could not move, he was sick he knew that, but he could watch and listen. The man stepped forward and Kid saw the star on his chest, as it caught a shaft of sunlight shining through the rafters of the barn.

“Stay where you are Curry and no one will get hurt,” the Sheriff said and he pointed his gun at Kid who could only do what he had been told. A movement to his right caught Kid’s attention and a man was pushed into the stall. Heyes! His partner looked awful. Bruises from a recent beating covered his face and his left eye was almost swollen shut. He dropped to his knees and his eyes met Kid’s. What was happening? How could Heyes be here? Kid searched Heyes’ face for an answer or the faintest glimmer of a plan but Heyes looked like the beaten man he was.

“Heyes?” Kid said unable to do little more than whisper the word.

“Where were you Kid?” his friend asked weakly through a mouth bloodied with broken teeth. “You were supposed to watch my back. Where were you?” Kid found himself unable to answer.

“Say goodbye to your partner Curry,” the Sheriff ordered. “We’re about to have ourselves a hanging.” With that Heyes was dragged from the stall and Kid struggled to raise himself. The pain was almost devouring him but he pulled himself up onto his elbow and searched around for his gun. Where was it? He needed his gun. He had to save Heyes. He looked frantically around the stall and then he saw her, a grey haired woman kneeling in the hay next to him. Kid grabbed her wrist.

“Where’s my gun?” he asked in a voice that few would have argued with.

Beth felt the man’s grip tighten but she was not afraid. She was a strong woman and in his weakened state Kid was no real threat to her.

“Where’s my gun?” Kid repeated through gritted teeth and fixed his eyes on Beth giving her a glimpse of just how dangerous this man could be.

“It’s out of harm’s way,” she told him. “Just as well it seems.”

“I need my gun,” he told her. “I have to save him.”

“Hush now, there’s no one here but you and me and I don’t think I need saving from anyone.” She smiled at him throwing Kid into confusion. Where was he? What about Heyes? Beth placed a hand on his chest and gave a gently push.

“Rest back or you’ll be doing that wound more harm,” she ordered and Kid found himself obeying. As his head rested back he looked at the woman.

“Where’s Heyes?” he asked. “Don’t let them hang him.”

***

The pace they were moving at was killing Heyes. The doctor’s horse had to be the slowest animal he had ever met and he was just beginning to think that the kindest thing to do would be to shoot it, and put them all out of its misery, when Jacob said, “There it is.”

Heyes looked down into the valley, to see a wooden cabin, a small barn and a corral. Nothing moved. Jacob urged his horse on followed by the Doc’s, with Heyes bringing up the rear.

***

Beth Chorley was a handsome woman in her early sixties. She came out of the barn as they rode up and greeted them with a broad smile.

“I’m glad you’re back, Jacob,” she told him, giving her husband’s leg an affectionate pat as he rode up to her and then Beth turned to the other men. “Hello Sam,” she said as the doctor eased himself out of the saddle. He began to untie his bag. Beth looked at Heyes.

“Joshua Smith, Ma’am.” Heyes touched the edge of his hat.

“Mr. Smith is a Bannerman Detective,” Jacob informed her as he led his horse towards the corral. “He thinks our guest might be his partner.” Beth looked at Heyes but did not say anything at first, as if she was trying to decide something.

“Well then you’d best come take a look at him, Mr. Smith,” Beth said and there was something in her voice, in the way she said his name that put Heyes on his guard. Beth turned back to the doctor. “I’ve taken care of him as best I can. Cleaned the wound and bandaged it but I think the bullet is still in his side.” She led the way into the barn and towards a stall at the rear of the building.

The doctor entered the stall and Heyes peered between the wooden slats at the man lying on a blanket in the hay. His sweat covered face was so pale that Heyes thought he was dead, and at that moment Heyes expected his own heart to stop beating too. Kid’s chest was bare and, if he was breathing, each breath was so shallow Heyes could not see it. His eyes were closed and a blood stained bandage covered his right side. The doctor knelt beside Kid Curry as Hannibal Heyes entered the stall behind him. Heyes knelt on the other side of Kid and at that moment his partner took a lung full of air. Heyes could not hide his relief.

“I take it this is your partner?” Doctor Mears said noticing the concerned look of the younger man and Heyes could only nod, his eyes still on Kid’s pain etched face. The doctor took one edge of the bandage in his hand ready to lift it.

“Now then young man,” he said to Kid, even though he doubted that he could hear him. “Let’s have a look at this wound.” He lifted the bandage and Heyes saw the bullet hole in his friend’s side and the redness around it indicating an infection. The doctor began to examine Kid. When he applied a little pressure to the area near the wound Kid groaned. The doctor asked Heyes to help him turn Kid slightly so that he could search for an exit wound. As they rolled Kid gently onto his left side, he cried out in pain. Heyes did not like doing this to his cousin but he knew the doctor had to do his job. When they eased Kid down onto his back, he opened his eyes and stared right into Heyes face.

“Ki..Thaddeus?” Heyes was stunned to see those blue eyes focussed on him but Kid simply closed them again, and Heyes realised he had not heard him; he probably did not know he was there.

“Well, you’re right Beth, the bullet is still in there,” the doctor announced.

“Can you remove it?” Heyes asked.

“I’ll give it a damn good try.” The doctor smiled but realising this had done nothing to allay Heyes’ fears he added. “The bullet’s not too deep and it’s relatively easy to reach and once it’s out, and the wound’s clean, we can deal with the infection. But your friend has lost an awful lot of blood, and that’s not going to help, so this is still a very serious injury. I’ll be honest with you Mr. Smith. Your friend might not make it, but I’ll do everything I can to give him the best chance possible.” He placed a reassuring hand on Heyes’ shoulder. Heyes, the man with the reputation of a silver tongue, was suddenly lost for words. Bad things happen when we split up. Your friend might not make it. What could he say to that?

“Beth,” the doctor said and the woman came into view. “I’ll need some hot water, towels and….” He got to his feet, groaning a little himself, as age made him less agile. “Why don’t I come with you and show you what I’ll need if I’m to get that bullet out.”

***

“Kid? Kid can you hear me?” Heyes asked whispering until he was sure they were alone in the barn. “Kid?” His cousin did not respond and Heyes sat back on his heels, not taking his eyes off his cousin. He’d seen Kid hurt before; seen him shot before too. He’d bandaged wounds and helped Preacher dig bullets out of his unconscious partner, up there in the cabin at Devil’s Hole, but somehow this time it was different. This time they had not just robbed a bank or held up a train. They had not been running from their latest job, high on adrenaline and almost expecting a bullet to hit them at any moment. This time they were trying to go straight, just passing through a town and still they were not out of harm’s way. This time Kid had been on his own with no one to watch his back or help him onto his horse. Heyes’ eyes fell on the bloody bandage; or help stop him bleeding to death. Heyes was angrier with himself than with the posse that had shot his partner.

“I’m sorry Kid,” he said, feeling as if a great weight was pulling him down. “I should have been there. You were right we shouldn’t have split up.”

“It’s not your fault.” Heyes looked up startled by the voice.

“Kid?”

“It’s not your fault Heyes,” Kid said again, his eyes only half open, as if he were talking to his partner in a dream. With a lump in his throat Heyes once again found himself speechless.

“I didn’t know you could hear me,” he finally managed to say.

“I know that look Heyes,” Kid said. “You’re thinking too much. None of this is your fault.” Kid’s voice was little more than a rasp.

“I made the decision,” Heyes told him. “I suggested we split up.”

“I could have said no,” Kid reminded him weakly.

“Yeah, but you trusted me to make the right decision. If we had stayed together..…”

“I could still have been shot,” Kid interrupted and took a deep breath that caused him a lot of pain. “Let it go Heyes. I got too much to worry about without you blaming yourself.” Kid began to cough and his face creased with the agony it caused him.

Heyes did not know how to help his cousin.

“Got any water?” Kid asked and Heyes helped him take a sip from a canteen Beth had placed nearby, supporting Kid’s head as he swallowed.

“Kid?” Heyes said but his partner had lost consciousness again.

***

“Mr. Smith, I’m going to need your help,” the doctor said as he knelt beside the injured Kid Curry. Heyes looked at the items laid out on one of Beth Chorley’s linen tablecloths and swallowed hard; bandages, towels, a bottle of whisky, a bowl of hot water and the doctor’s instruments. They might be about to kill his best friend.

“What do you need me to do Doc?” he asked.

“Hold him down.” He saw Heyes’ look of concern and added. “I don’t have any anaesthetic. I’m still waiting for it to arrive. My last order was taken when the stage was held up. If we’re lucky he will stay unconscious or at least lose consciousness early on, but we both know that may not happen. So I’ll need you to hold down his shoulders. Ensure he moves as little as possible.” Heyes nodded and the doctor turned his attention to Jacob Chorley.

“Jacob, I’ll need you to hold his legs. Same thing, keep him as still as you can. Mr. Smith he’ll need something to bite down on, for the pain. I suggest using your bandana as a gag.” Heyes felt sick to his stomach but he rolled up his bandana and gently encouraged Kid to bite on it.

“Thaddeus, open your mouth.” Kid did not move. He was semi-conscious and only partially aware of what they were about to do. “Thaddeus, please you have to bite on this.” Still Kid’s mouth stayed firmly shut, so Heyes tried a different approach, one which he hoped would get through to his semi-conscious cousin. “Hey, eat this; come on it’ll do you good.” Kid opened his mouth. Food and Kid Curry. Never failed.

Heyes wedged the cloth between Kid’s teeth and tied it around his head, even as his cousin began to struggle against him. Kid’s eyes opened and fixed on Heyes revealing his fear and confusion. Heyes apologised to him for what he had to do, but he was not sure if Kid could hear him or understand. Heyes and Jacob took up their positions. The doctor opened a bottle of whisky and poured some, first over his forceps and scalpel, and then over Kid’s wound. Kid groaned and moved slightly as the liquid ran over his skin and sank into his torn flesh. He seemed suddenly more aware of what was about to happen and Heyes felt his cousin begin to struggle. He held Kid tight.

“Are you ready gentlemen?” the doctor asked and when he was sure that they were, he began. Heyes held onto Kid trying not to look at what the doctor was doing. It tore him apart to feel his cousin struggle beneath his grip and to hear him cry out in pain as the doctor probed the wound, searching for the bullet, which proved trickier to reach than he had first thought. Kid was biting hard on the bandana. Heyes held Kid down and then finally, thankfully, he felt him go limp beneath his grip, as Kid gave into the pain and slipped into unconsciousness. The doctor relaxed a little and continued his work. Eventually, with a triumphant smile on his face, he held up the bullet.

“He’ll need stitches,” he stated. “I’ll do them as quickly as I can whilst he’s still out.” Taking hold of his needle and thread, he pierced Kid’s flesh and began to close up the wound.

Beth Chorley had been watching Joshua Smith during the operation and her heart went out to the handsome, dark-haired young man. She saw the look of concern on his face as his friend lost consciousness and now, even though the operation was over, he was still as white as a sheet. He cares about this man very much she thought. These two are not just colleagues. Bannerman men indeed! From the stories she had heard about two particular outlaws, and the way they looked after one another, Beth was convinced she knew exactly who Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were.

***

As night fell Heyes settled himself down onto the hay, a short distance from Kid. Beth had provided him with blankets and he was grateful for her help. She had been concerned that the stable was no place for one of her guests.

“Here’s just fine Ma’am,” Heyes assured her.

He wanted to be close to his partner. Before he departed the doctor had left them with a selection of medicines ‘for the pain; to help reduce his fever; to combat the infection’ and instructions on their use and when to administer them. He promised to return later the next day, to check on Mr. Jones, and Heyes saw the look that passed between the doctor and Beth which suggested that he was not convinced he would still have a patient to tend. The doctor’s worried expression remained in Heyes mind as he pulled the blanket over his cousin’s unconscious body. Kid’s temperature had risen; his face and chest were still covered in sweat but he was resting quietly for now, and the bandage at his side showed only a slight bloodstain.

Heyes looked at Kid and did not want to admit to himself, that he did not want to go to sleep, in case his partner was not alive when he woke in the morning

***

Heyes stayed at Kid’s side all the next day. He watched as the fever ravaged his cousin’s body; listened as he mumbled incoherently as delirium over took him and, with Beth’s help, cleaned his wound and changed the bloody bandage as the doctor had instructed. They even managed to get Kid to take some of the medicine the doctor had left and to take a few sips of water when he could be roused.

The Doctor rode out to the farm late that afternoon to check on his patient but Heyes gained no comfort from his visit, and knew his partner’s life still hung in the balance.

“Fight it Kid,” he pleaded. “I can’t go on alone. Fight it please.”

***

“Get up Curry.” A voice ordered from the distance. Kid slowly opened his eyes and looked into the face of Joe Briggs. It was impossible.

“You can’t be here,” Kid said but Briggs smiled, his gun pointed squarely at him.

“Don’t tell me what I can’t do Curry. I’m here ain’t I? Now get on your feet,” he ordered.

“I can’t.” Kid tried to explain but Briggs was having none of it.

“If you don’t get moving within the next two seconds I’ll drag you outside myself.”

Kid tried to sit up and found by some miracle that he could. There was no pain in his side, no bullet wound. He was sure he had been shot. He reached down to where his gun should have been and heard Briggs laugh.

“You don’t think I’m stupid enough to let you keep your gun do you? I didn’t know who you were last time we met, but I’m well aware of your reputation now.”

“So why are you here?” Kid asked as he got slowly to his feet. The barn they were in looked familiar.

“Settling a score, why else?” He had his gun pointed at Kid’s stomach and waved it indicating Kid should start walking. As they walked out of the stall Kid realised they were not alone. Three other men stood to one side, all with their guns pointed at him. They too were well aware of this man’s reputation with a gun.

“Okay, you can stop there,” Briggs told him and Kid stopped in front of the barn door. “Turn around.” He did as he was told and Briggs placed Kid’s gun back in his holster.

“What’s going on?” Kid asked suspicious of this man’s intentions.

“Let’s call it a rematch,” Briggs said. “It took a long time for my arm to heal. Time enough for me to think about what I’d do if we ever met up again. So you can imagine my surprise when one of the boys here told me he saw you riding out to this farm.” Briggs indicated Kid’s gun. “Check it. Slowly.”

Cautiously, Kid placed his hand on the handle of his gun and withdrew it from the holster. He checked the chambers. The gun was fully loaded.

“Now, put it back in the holster,” Briggs ordered and Kid did so. “Now we are going to have a little fast draw contest. The fastest man gets to shoot the other one but if you win, I don’t do a jig for you, my boys will gun you down.”

“You’re crazy. You know I’m faster than you. If they shoot me it’ll be because you’re already dead.” Kid could not believe what he was hearing.

“Why don’t you let me worry about that?” Briggs smiled. “Or we could have that jig of yours again but I don’t think any of us want that do we?” He stood facing Kid Curry, one glove tucked into his gun belt, and his hand at his side. He was ready to draw on Kid anytime and his men were ready to shoot too. Kid waited. He would let Briggs make the first move and then take out the man nearest him. There were enough places to dive for cover once the first shots had been fired. Briggs was crazy to think he could out shoot him.

Briggs’ hand moved and Kid reached down only to find his holster empty. In shock he looked down but his gun was no longer there. Briggs stood before him, his gun pointed at Kid’s chest and a smile developing on his face.

“How does it feel Mr. Curry, knowing you’re no longer the fastest gun in the west?” He started to laugh and his men joined in. Then Briggs fired.

***

Kid sat up, sweat running down his face, the blast of Briggs’ gun still ringing in his ears. The pain in his side confirmed that he was still alive. He looked around the stall; it had been a dream, or more accurately a nightmare. He was lying on the ground in a stable. He remembered being shot but not by Briggs; remembered finding a barn. His eyes focused on the wooden walls around him. His side ached. Turning his head he saw someone he knew could not be there. Sitting just a few feet away from him, leaning against the wall, his head tilted forward and his chin down towards his chest as he slept, was Hannibal Heyes. Kid knew his cousin could not possibly be there. This was just another dream but it did not stop him calling out to him.

“Heyes?” he said in a quiet voice. His throat was dry; he swallowed and tried to lift his head. “Heyes?” His voice was louder this time and his partner began to stir. Waking Hannibal Heyes looked into the blue eyes of his cousin and smiled.

“Hey Kid, you’re awake at last.” He moved to sit beside his friend. “How are you feeling?” But Kid did not answer him; he just kept looking at Heyes.

“You can’t be here,” he said.

“Well I am,” Heyes assured him.

“This is still a dream,” Kid said with certainty.

“Not from where I’m sitting it isn’t,” his cousin told him. “I don’t want to be here next time they have to dig a bullet out of you.” Which he knew was a lie.

“I told you Heyes, bad things happen when we split up.” Kid took a breath. “How? How d’you find me?” Heyes smiled at his cousin’s question.

“I’m a genius remember?” Kid laughed and immediately regretted it as it caused a pain in his side.

“You just keep telling yourself that Heyes,” Kid said. It sure sounded like Heyes but he knew he was really miles away. Kid closed his eyes and was soon asleep.

Heyes pulled the blanket up over Kid’s chest. He didn’t feel like a genius at that moment. Kid was starting to wake and that was a good sign but he still looked so vulnerable. Kid Curry, the fastest gun in the west, looked too young and too weak to be a danger to anyone. Heyes sat back against the wall and picked up the book he had been reading, before he dozed off. It was one Beth had leant him and he wanted to talk to her about it later. Reading would help take his mind off of things. Reassured by Kid’s untroubled breathing Hannibal Heyes turned the page.

***

Heyes lifted the planks of timber off of the wagon and leant them against the barn. Jacob Chorley was building a hen house and Heyes had offered to help. It was the least he could do for the couple who had been so kind to his partner. At first neither of them would hear of Heyes helping out, insisting that he should keep an eye on his friend but Heyes had assured them that Mr. Jones would be fine for a while. He did not tell them that he had watched Jacob struggling with the heavy planks, and knew the man needed someone’s help, and then Beth had offered to sit with Thaddeus for a while. She too had seen her husband struggling.

Between them they had three walls raised and, as Jacob finished nailing in the fourth, Heyes collected the timber designated for the roof. Beth had bought some very special chickens from a friend in town. Why they were so special Heyes had yet to find out but it was obvious Beth was excited about their arrival. The new hen house was sort of a present from Jacob to his wife.

“Mr. Jones, healing okay?” Jacob asked. They had not spoken about Kid; just got on with the work each man lost in his own thoughts.

“I think so,” Heyes said.

“Reminds Beth a lot of our son, William. He was killed a few years back.”

“I’m sorry,” Heyes said.

“Got caught up in a bank robbery.” Heyes stopped what he was doing and looked at Jacob. Was it Heyes’ imagination or was Jacob watching him? “Can’t abide bank robbers.”

“I can imagine why,” Heyes told him but he was wary now and wondered where the conversation was leading.

***

The world swam around him and then Kid’s eyes began to focus, first on the rafters of the barn and then the walls of the stall he was in. The hay was soft beneath his tired body. Sounds and smells regaled his senses as he tried to remember where he was and what had happened to him. Kid turned his head to look around him and found himself face to face with a familiar grey-haired woman.

“Where’s your shotgun?” Kid asked and Beth Chorley smiled.

“Oh don’t worry, it’s nearby,” she assured him.

“I’m glad you didn’t shoot me.” He thought about that and how bad he was feeling and, raising his head, looked down at his body. “You didn’t, did you?”

“No. You seemed to have enough blood pouring out of you without my help,” Beth informed him.

“Appreciate it,” Kid said, his voice revealing the pain he felt, as he lowered his head onto the pillow she had fashioned for him.

“The doctor was here; took the bullet out of your side. Now how did you come by that I wonder?”

“It’s a long story ma’am.”

“I thought it might be and the name’s Beth. Beth Chorley.”

“Thaddeus….Thaddeus Jones.”

“Well, I’m pleased to meet you Thaddeus. The doctor said you’ll be laid up for a while. You lost a lot of blood and need time to get your strength back. You’re welcome to stay here for as long as you need.”

“Thank you ma’am.” He saw the look she gave him and smiled. “Beth,” he added and she smiled too. She was already beginning to like the man who reminded her so much of her son. He had a similar smile too.

“Are you hungry yet?” she asked him. William was always hungry.

“Not really,” he told her. He must really be sick.

“Well, you should try to eat something, to keep your strength up.” She got up to leave. “I’ll see what I can fix you. Maybe some soup.”

“Ma’am. Beth.” She paused at the entrance to the stall when he called her name. “I’d like to get a message to a friend of mine. He should be waiting for me in Twin Forks. Is there anyone who could do that for me?”

“Wouldn’t be a handsome young fella calling himself Joshua Smith would it?” Beth asked and Kid could only gape at her in surprise. “He arrived with the Doctor. He’s been at your side most of the time, just stepped out to help my husband with some chores. I’ll send him back to you.” With a smile she was gone.

So it had not been a dream. Heyes really was here. How had he found him? A cloud passed over Kid Curry’s face. What did Beth mean “’Calling himself’ Joshua Smith?”

***

Kid Curry opened his eyes and looked into the face of his partner, Hannibal Heyes. Heyes smiled.

“Hey,” Kid said, in a weak voice that was barely more than a whisper.

“Hi Kid. Welcome back.” Heyes was so glad to see his partner regain consciousness.

“I thought it was a dream. You being here,” Kid said taking a little longer to say each word than he normally would. It was clearly hurting him to breathe. “Had some pretty weird dreams.”

“Well Kid, I’m here,” Heyes assured him.

“Appreciate it.” Kid swallowed and Heyes saw the pain on his face. He leant in closer when Kid said, “Got any water?”

“Sure Kid, here.” Heyes supported Kid’s head whilst he drank slowly from a mug. A sudden coughing fit racked Kid’s body as he began to choke on the water. He grimaced as pain ripped through his side.

“Oh God, that hurts.”

“I know Kid.”

“I’d argue that with you Heyes, if I had the strength,” Kid told him bringing a smile to his cousin’s face. Kid suddenly turned serious. “Heyes if I don’t make it……..”

“Hey, no talking like that,” Heyes insisted.

“Heyes, this is bad, you know it too.”

“It’s not that bad. You’re recovering,” Heyes told him.

“It sure don’t feel like it.”

“Kid, I gotta tell you something.”

“About what?” Kid asked curious.

“Us.” Heyes saw Kid’s quizzical look. “About who we are.”

“Well if I’m not Thaddeus Jones it’s too late because I all ready told…” He paused to recall a name. “Beth. I all ready told Beth that’s who I am.”

“No, it’s not that. They think we’re Bannerman detectives,” Heyes explained.

“What?” Kid laughed and that hurt; he could not believe what he was hearing. “Why would they think that?” Heyes did not reply but Kid saw the look on his partner’s face and the expression on his own face dropped. “Oh no, Heyes you didn’t?” Kid asked shaking his head in disbelief.

“I needed a reason to come out here,” Hannibal Heyes explained. “I told them we were on the trail of two desperate outlaws and they think one of them shot you.”

“Bannerman men?” he asked incredulously and Heyes gave a sheepish nod. “Well don’t tell them anything they can’t check on Heyes. That’s just brilliant!” Heyes could see that his friend was a little annoyed with him and he did not think he deserved it.

“Well I had to think of something to tell the sheriff,” he said defensively and immediately realised that he had not helped the situation.

“Sheriff?” Kid asked his teeth held firmly together. “What sheriff?”

“His name’s Ellis Henry.” He held up a hand before Kid could speak. “It’s all right, we don’t know him.”

“And how long before he sends a telegram to check up on us?”

“I told him we were working for Lom.”

“Oh well, that’s all right then,” Kid said with mock capitulation and he rested his head back on the blanket, exhausted by their exchange.

“If the sheriff wants to check on us he’ll probably contact Lom,” Heyes said, hoping to ease Kid’s worries, although they were echoing his own thoughts.

“Or the Bannerman agency direct,” Kid pointed out. “You know for a genius Heyes, you can do some pretty dumb things at times.”

“Well pardon me but I didn’t know the ‘fastest gun in the west’ was going to get himself shot!” Heyes countered. Kid thought about this; about what Heyes must have been through and how glad he was to have him there. Kid smiled and Heyes felt the tension between them ease.

“I’m glad you’re here, Heyes,” Kid said.

“Me too Kid,” Heyes told him. “But for the record, I’d rather not have to watch someone dig any more bullets out of you.” They were silent for a moment, each well aware of how the other felt about such things.

“So who shot me?” Kid asked.

“What?”

“The two desperate outlaws. Who are they?”

“Why d’you ask?”

“Because if I’m going to have to pretend to be all fired up about seeking revenge later on, I’d like to know who I’m supposed to be gunning for,” Kid explained.

“I don’t know,” Heyes admitted and, as weak as Kid was, he could see his anger rising again.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I didn’t give them names,” Heyes explained.

“Well you’d better come up with some soon Heyes, or once I’m up and about, I might just shoot me the first outlaw I’m looking at.” Kid looked directly at Heyes.

“I know you’re in pain Kid, but there’s no need to take it out on me.” Heyes sounded hurt by Kid’s remarks. “You know you sure get proddy when you get a bullet in you,” Heyes observed

“Huh,” Kid scoffed. “Bannerman men!! Brilliant, just brilliant!”

***

Heyes cleaned out the barn, changed the bedding in every stall, chopped enough wood to see the Chorley’s through the winter and cleaned both his gun and Kid’s, although he knew his partner would clean it again as soon as he was able. The hard work had kept Heyes busy and his mind off his own doubts and feelings of guilt. It had also felt good to be helping the people who had been so kind to himself and his partner. All the while he kept up the pretence of being a Bannerman detective, eager to get back on the trail of the men who had shot his partner. At the same time, he remained wary of the looks Jacob and Beth were giving him.

***

Heyes entered the barn the following morning to find Kid on his knees, clearly in considerable pain and trying to get to his feet.

“What do you think you are doing?” Heyes asked in disbelief.

“I’m trying to stand up,” Kid said knowing full well Heyes knew that. He held his right side with his left hand as he tried to ease himself up.

“Okay,” Heyes said patiently. “Why?”

“Because when that sheriff gets here, I’ll need to be ready to ride,” Kid groaned as he put his weight onto his left leg.

“Kid, he’s not coming here,” Heyes assured his younger cousin as he bent down to support him.

“He thinks we’re Bannerman men,” Kid reminded him and his blue eyes met Heyes’ brown ones. “He’ll be here.”

“Whatever you say, Kid,” Heyes said not agreeing in the least but feeling it best to placate him. “But it’s too soon to be moving about. Now come on, lie back down or you’re gonna open up that wound.” Kid was now in too much pain to argue with his partner and, accepting Heyes’ help, he lowered himself back onto the blanket.

“Maybe I’ll try a little later,” Kid Curry said weakly, but the sweat running down his forehead, told the dark-haired man that his cousin would not be strong enough to try that again for some time. Heyes sat beside Kid as his breathing took on the slow rhythm of sleep.

“You just rest Kid. Let me worry about the sheriff.” What would they do if the sheriff came there? Heyes had no idea.

***

“This is really good Beth, thank you,” Heyes said as he shovelled in another mouthful of stew. Beth turned from the oven and gave him a smile.

“Why thank you Joshua. It’s nice to have a young man with a healthy appetite around the place. Now if we could just get Thaddeus to eat some when he’s able, I’m sure it will do him the world of good.”

“Oh believe me Beth, when he starts eating again they’ll be no stopping him,” Heyes assured her. It was a sign of how ill Kid was that he still had not eaten a full meal and was barely managing to finish the soup Beth sent out for him. Heyes sat across the table from Jacob who was just finishing off his own meal. Jacob gave him a smile but somehow it seemed guarded and Heyes did not like how that made him feel.

“You’re worried about Thaddeus, aren’t you?” Beth said to Heyes.

“Yes Ma’am. We’ve been partners for years. He’s the best friend I have.”

“And I think you’re blaming yourself for what happened to him,” she said and Heyes looked at her in astonishment. How could Beth know? “There’s just a look on your face,” Beth explained.

“Joshua will you join me for a cigar on the porch?” Jacob asked and went on to explain. “Beth doesn’t like the smoke in the house.” He stood up and reached for a tin perched on a shelf above the fireplace.

“Beth doesn’t like the way it makes everything smell of rotten tobacco Joshua,” Beth told him as she began to clear the dishes. Heyes reached for a plate.

“Let me help you with that first,” he said but she shooed him away.

“No, go on with you, you’ve both worked hard today on my hen house. Go sit out a while.” Heyes did as he was instructed and joined Jacob on the porch. They stood for a time in companionable silence, each leaning against the frame of the porch, watching the sun set behind the barn and listening to the evening insects. Heyes had a feeling there was something on the other man’s mind and it was Jacob who spoke first.

“Tell me something about yourself Joshua. Where are you from?”

“Kansas,” Heyes supplied feeling suddenly reticent.

“You’re a long way from home,” Jacob observed.

“Oh, Kansas isn’t home anymore, hasn’t been since the war.”

“Lot of folks feel that way I expect,” Jacob said and Heyes nodded slightly. “You’re not what I expected for a Bannerman detective.”

“Oh, what did you expect?” Heyes asked.

“Man in a suit, I guess; older too.”

“Well a suit’s not really practical where we go. Can’t really blend in, in a suit.”

“How long you been a Bannerman man?” Jacob let out a long puff of smoke.

“Only a few months,” Heyes lied.

“Oh, I thought you said Thaddeus had been your partner for years?” Heyes hid a smile. Jacob was a wily old fox trying to catch him out. The question was why?

“He has been. We’ve done all sorts of jobs together.”

“Does it take long to train to be a detective?”

“Long enough.” Heyes was not about to give anything away for free.

“You say you were chasing bank robbers?”

“Yes sir; a couple of mean ones too.” Jacob considered this.

“My son was killed by bank robbers.”

“Yes sir, you told me. I’m sorry about that.”

“Minding his own business he was. Just going to get some cash, for feed.” He fell silent and stood quietly puffing on his cigar for a time. His next words pulled Heyes up sharp. “If I found out a man was a bank robber, I’d turn him into the law as soon as look at him. He might not have done me or mine any harm but he’s no better than the one killed my son.” Jacob turned to look directly at Heyes. “You’ll be moving on soon I think, Mr. Smith.” With that he turned and entered the house, leaving Heyes alone on the porch, wondering how soon Kid would be able to ride.

***

“Hello Sheriff.”

Heyes stiffened at Jacob’s words and turned slowly to see Ellis Henry ride up on a large black horse. There was no way Jacob could have sent for him but would he say something now? Would he let the sheriff know his suspicions about himself and Kid?

“Morning Jacob. Mr. Smith.” He nodded his head in Heyes’ direction.

“Hello Sheriff,” Heyes said and gave the man his best ‘pleased to meet you and I’ve nothing to fear from a sheriff’ smile.

“I came to see how your partner’s doing Mr. Smith,” the sheriff explained. Dammit did Kid always have to be right? “The Doc told me he was your friend. Shot real bad. He going to live?”

“Sure looks that way,” Heyes assured him.

“Well that’s mighty fine.” Ellis Henry got off of his horse. “Can I see him?” he asked and inside his head Heyes could hear Kid saying ‘I told you so’.

***

Kid sat with his back against the wall, cleaning his gun. His blue shirt was unbuttoned revealing a slightly bloodstained bandage at his side. Heyes held his breath. Kid could not have looked more like a wounded gunfighter if he had tried. They were doomed. Startled by their sudden appearance Kid’s hand flew up; his gun swiftly pointing at the man directly in front of him, with the star pinned on his chest. Heyes closed his eyes and waited for the exchange that never came. There was a moment of unease, as Kid’s eyes moved from the sheriff to Heyes, and his partner gave his head a slight shake, pleading with Kid not to shoot this sheriff.

“Easy son. I come in peace,” the sheriff said and the tension between them eased. “Mr. Jones, I presume?”

“Thaddeus, this is Sheriff Ellis Henry,” Heyes explained. “He came to see how you are.”

“Can’t imagine why you’d be interested in me, sheriff,” Kid said and Heyes knew that was a jibe directed at him.

“Do you mind?” the sheriff asked, indicating Kid’s gun which was still pointed at him.

“Oh sorry,” Kid lowered the gun but, Heyes noted, he did not replace it in the holster that lay beside him. “You startled me.”

“So I saw,” the sheriff observed, having been impressed by the speed at which the gun had been pointed at him and Heyes detected something in his voice that troubled him. “So how are you Mr. Jones?”

“Healing. Slowly.”

“I’d like to know who shot you. Who were you after?” Kid gave Heyes his best ‘over to you’ look and his partner obliged.

“Harry Raymond,” Heyes said and Ellis Henry turned his attention to the dark-haired man. “And Billy-Joe McCree.”

“I’ve never heard of them.”

“Well, they were wanted mostly around Porterville, which is why Sheriff Lom Trevors asked us to help.”

“Yes, I heard from Trevors.” Kid gave Heyes a look the Sheriff did not see. “All he said was ‘Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are known to me.’ Nothing about you being Bannerman men, or who you were on the trail of.”

“Well he wouldn’t tell you Sheriff because we are what they call ‘under cover’.” As the sheriff looked confused Heyes went on to explain. “A few months ago a Bannerman man was killed whilst on a case. He was knocked out and they found his identification. When they knew he was a Bannerman detective they killed him. So now when we are on a job we don’t carry our identification and we have specific code words that we use before anyone will tell you anything about us. It’s for our protection Sheriff. I’m sure you can understand that.” Heyes looked at Kid and knew he was impressed. The silver tongue had done it again.

“I see. So what had these men done?”

“They were vicious bank robbers. Shot a man whilst trying to escape too.” The sheriff could see now why they were on their trail and the need to be cautious. He was about to ask more questions when Beth appeared behind them, flour from her morning baking still on her cheek and hands.

“Hello Sheriff, Jacob told me you were in here. You will stay for lunch won’t you?” The sheriff turned his attention to Beth and as they talked he followed her out of the barn. Heyes brought up the rear anxious to see that they really had left before he spoke to Kid. Beth turned to Heyes. “Joshua, why don’t you and Thaddeus join us?” Heyes began to think of an excuse not to but Beth was having none of it. “He must be fed up with the barn by now and it will give him a reason to get up and walking. It’s about time he tried. Bring him over as soon as you can.” And with that she led the sheriff towards the house. For once Heyes was lost for words.

“Not bad Heyes. Not bad at all,” Kid said when his partner returned. “You sure have me convinced.”

“Yes, but did I convince the sheriff?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Ellis Henry is not dumb. There was something in his voice when he met you. I don’t know what Kid, but I’m still not sure he believes we’re who we say we are.”

“As long as he isn’t sure who we really are, does it matter?”

“It will when we have lunch with him.”

“What?”

“Beth just invited you and I to have lunch with them in the house.”

“And you said no, right?” Heyes did not answer. “Oh, Heyes.”

“Well what could I say?”

“How about that I can’t get up?”

“But Beth’s right you need to start moving. You need to get out of here and into the fresh air.”

“So because of that we have to have lunch with the sheriff?”

***

Bobby Blackstone was twenty five years old with a thin frame and long brown hair that he had not washed in many weeks. His teeth were crooked and several were broken as a result of the numerous fights he had been in, during his short life. Bobby had a fresh cut down his left cheek, put there by a saloon girl who did not appreciate the advances of this particular unwashed cowboy, in his equally unwashed and tatty clothes. Bobby lay on the ground on a hill overlooking the Chorley farm and watched and waited. His younger brother Clay was beside him picking his teeth.

“When can we go?” he asked removing his hat and scratching his head, making several fleas homeless in the process.

“Not until we’ve got something to tell Tyler,” Bobby said.

“Well what does Tyler want to know? Why’s he want us to watch these folks anyway?” Clay sniffed. He thought he was getting a cold. He sure hadn’t been feeling well lately and he wanted to get back to town, to the warm saloon, and try his luck with the girl Bobby upset the other day. She sure was a pretty little thing. He was sure he was more her type.

“It’s not these folks, it’s the sheriff. He’s down there and Tyler wants to know where, he goes and what he does before he makes his move. Now hush up and listen.” At that moment Beth and the Sheriff emerged from the barn and began to walk towards the house. In the still air, the sound of their conversation carried, and it wasn’t long before Bobby knew the sheriff would be staying for lunch. This could be just what Tyler needed. Bobby grabbed his brother by the front of his shirt. “Go get Tyler,” he ordered and his brother knew better than to argue.

“What are you gonna do?” Clay asked as he got to his feet.

“I’m gonna watch some more, now get going.”

***

“Easy Kid,” Heyes said as, with his partner’s help, Kid got to his feet. Heyes knew how much it was hurting his partner by the way he held himself, the way he paused after every movement, by his laboured breathing and by the fact that he moaned constantly to Heyes that it hurt.

“Will you shut up and get moving!” Heyes lost his patience. “You know for a gunslinger you can sound like a real baby at times.”

“It hurts,” Kid informed him through gritted teeth.

“So you keep saying.”

“Heyes, may I remind you that my gun is clean and fully loaded.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Kid gave his cousin a look. “Don’t even think it Kid. Right now Beth could outdraw you.” Heyes stood back. Kid Curry was finally on his two feet, one hand held onto the wall supporting him. Sweat ran down his face and he looked tired. For all his goading Heyes knew it had not been easy for his partner. He was taking a long time to recover from his wound and, having lost so much blood, was still very weak. “You okay?” he asked his voice kinder.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine, just give me a minute.” Kid bent down to retrieve his gun belt.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Putting on my gun,” Kid stated as he put it around his waist.

“Why?” Heyes asked incredulously.

“Because there’s a sheriff in the house Heyes, that’s why.” Kid began to do up the buckle.

“Oh, and you think you’re gonna be able to wear that thing, with a hole in your side?” Kid looked up at his partner.

“Heyes, it’s gonna to hurt like hell but I’m gonna wear it, because I don’t think we can afford for me not to.”

“Even if you’re slower than me?” Kid was about to reply then he saw the twinkle in Heyes eyes.

“Not even Beth’s that slow Heyes.” He smiled, bending down to tie the gun to his leg.

***

“Well now who do we have here?” Bobby Blackstone said aloud even though his brother had ridden off to get Tyler Mason. He watched as two men walked slowly from the barn towards the house. One of the men, a blond curly haired man appeared to be hurt; he walked with a slight limp and the dark haired man was hovering about him, offering a supportive hand when it was needed. Bobby thought there was something familiar about the blond man who, despite his obvious discomfort, wore his gun tied down. He narrowed his eyes and shielded them from the sun.

“Well I’ll be,” he said in stunned surprise. “If that ain’t Kid Curry my name ain’t Bobby Blackstone. Wait ‘til Tyler gets here.” He grinned revealing his yellow crooked teeth.

***

“Now it’s just the two steps up to the porch,” Heyes said in his most encouraging voice as he and Kid approached the house.

“There’s steps? You didn’t mention I’d have to climb steps,” Kid pointed out weakly.

“Well I wanted to keep that part a surprise for you,” Heyes replied sarcastically. “Will you get a move on or it’ll be suppertime before we get there.”

“You are all heart Heyes, you know that.” As they stood on the porch the door opened and Beth stood in the doorway smiling at them.

“Welcome gentlemen, I’m glad you could make it. Won’t you come in?” She stood to one side and whispered to Kid, as he entered the house, “Take a seat at the table, you look as if you need it.” He smiled and thanked her.

The house consisted of a main room with a large wooden table and six chairs; two more comfortable looking chairs were placed either side of the fireplace. A book case and two ornate wooden cabinets stood against the walls. A stove and kitchen area was off to one side and a door at the back led, Heyes presumed, to the Chorley’s bedroom. The table was set for five and, on Beth’s insistence, Kid eased himself into a seat. The Sheriff and Jacob Chorley had risen from the chairs beside the unlit fire as Heyes and Curry entered.

“How are you feeling Mr. Jones?” Jacob asked.

“Like I’ve just walked a mile,” Kid said and turned to face Beth. “But if that food tastes as good as it smells Ma’am, it’ll be worth it.” She gave him an appreciative smile and ushered the men to take their seats. The food was as good as Kid had suggested, the chicken cooked to perfection and Beth’s apple pie was one of the best any of them had tasted.

“You know Mr. Smith, I was surprised when you told me you were a Bannerman detective,” the sheriff said as he finished off his second piece of pie. Heyes paused, his own fork just inches from his mouth and out of the corner of his eye he saw Kid’s hand slowly slide beneath the table. “I always expected Bannerman men to be a little older.”

“A lot of people have told us that,” Heyes agreed cheerfully. “But that was one of the reasons we were given the job. People just don’t expect us to be detectives and that means we can fit right in almost any place we go. Makes it a lot easier to get close to whoever we’re after.” The sheriff considered Heyes’ answer.

“Have you known Lom Trevors long?”

“Several years, as a matter of fact,” Heyes told him. “We first did some work with him on a bank job.” Kid suddenly coughed and seemed to be choking on his food.

“Oh my, Mr. Jones are you all right?” Beth fussed about him and Kid assured her it was just a piece of apple that had gone the wrong way. Even as his eyes watered he glared at Heyes who was sitting across the table from him.

“You okay Thaddeus?” Heyes asked and there was that twinkle again. His partner nodded.

“So what was this job you did with Trevors?” the sheriff asked clearly not about to let the subject drop and alarm bells were ringing for Hannibal Heyes and his partner.

“A bank job,” Heyes said straight faced. “A gang had robbed a bank in….” He turned to Kid. “Where was it Thaddeus? Not Porterville, I know that.” Heyes saw a flicker of panic in Kid’s eyes as he searched for the name of a town he hoped the sheriff would not know, whilst at the same time telling Heyes, in no uncertain terms, that they would be talking about this later.

“Somewhere up around Oakland, I think,” Kid supplied in a raspy voice still affected by the apple in his throat. He gave Heyes a look that said he hoped he knew what he was doing and in reply Heyes gave him a mischievous smile.

“You know I think you’re right. It was Oakland. Do you know it sheriff?” Ellis Henry did not and comforted by that fact Heyes went on to regale them all with the story of how they had been in town on the day of the robbery and how Lom Trevors had asked for their help. As Heyes told his story Beth noticed a change come over Kid. He looked tired; his eyes heavy and she watched as he fought to follow the flow of the conversation, which now centred around the imminent arrival of the railway in Twin Forks and the problems that was sure to bring.

“Are you all right Thaddeus?” Beth asked as she gently touched his arm and Heyes turned with concern to look at his partner.

“I’m just a little tired Ma’am,” he told her and Heyes noted how pale he looked. “If you folks don’t mind, I think I’ll be getting back to my bed.” He stood up and the room swam a little at the sudden movement. Kid steadied himself against the table.

“I’ll see you back Thaddeus,” Heyes said coming to his friend’s side. “Beth, that was a delicious meal. Sheriff, I enjoyed our conversation.” He nodded to Jacob and they headed for the door. Heyes had his hand on the door handle when the bullet shattered the glass of the window beside them. Everyone hit the floor.

“See anything?” Kid asked Heyes, his gun already in his hand, as his partner peered cautiously through the broken window pane.

“Nothing,” Heyes informed him and another bullet hit the wall above the fireplace. Keeping low the sheriff moved to join them as Heyes ducked down again. “You all right?” Heyes asked Kid, noticing his partner was holding his side.

“Yeah, I’ll be okay,” Kid said convincing neither himself nor his partner.

“What do you boys think?” the sheriff asked and the ex-outlaws exchanged a glance.

“I think someone doesn’t want anyone leaving this house,” Heyes said stating a fact he knew they were well aware of. “Jacob, do you have trouble with anyone?”

“No, Joshua,” Jacob said from his position behind the table. A bullet broke the milk jug that sat in the centre of the table. Jacob put a protective arm around Beth’s shoulders and, even though she was a tough frontier woman, she appreciated the gesture from her husband. “I’ve no idea who’d be out there shooting at us. What about the men you were after? D’you think they could have followed you?” The sheriff looked at Kid Curry.

“What about it, Mr. Jones?” Kid felt uncomfortable that all eyes were now on him and he was expected to come up with an end, to the story Heyes had started.

“To tell you the truth sheriff, I don’t know where those men went but I can’t imagine why they’d come after us. They shot me and I wasn’t about to tell anyone where they were, so why come back? I don’t think it’s them out there.” As if to answer their question a voice called out.

“Ellis Henry! Sheriff Ellis Henry! You in there, sheriff?” The sheriff looked as surprised as everyone else that it was his name that had been called. He stood up and peered cautiously through the broken window.

“Who wants to know?” he asked desperately trying to locate the shooter.

“Why sheriff don’t tell me you’ve forgotten me so soon,” the man called. “I’ve travelled a long way to see you. Took a bit of trouble too.” A look of recognition came over the sheriff’s face.

“Tyler Mason, is that you?” the lawman called.

“I knew you’d remember me sheriff. Now why don’t you come on out and we can have a little talk.”

“You don’t think I’m that stupid do you, Tyler?” the sheriff asked rhetorically.

“I hoped you might be sheriff. Got a lot to talk to you about, since you killed my brother.” The sheriff looked at the Jacob, then at Heyes and Curry.

“I shot your brother in self defence Tyler, you know that,” he called.

“Tom shot first, I’ll give you that, but he was still my brother and I’m set to avenge him sheriff,” Mason called from his hiding place which the sheriff had located, on the hill, just beyond the barn. “Besides, I have my own score to settle with you.” As if to remind Ellis Henry of that, a volley of rifle shots hit the cabin breaking more windows and some of Beth’s best china on a shelf in the kitchen. Everyone kept their heads low as the shots rang out and splinters of wood, glass and broken china flew around them. When the shooting stopped Heyes stood up and moved to the sheriff’s side.

“He’s just beyond the barn.” Ellis Henry pointed out of the window. Heyes turned back to help Kid get to his feet.

“D’you think it was one shooter or two?” he asked his partner.

“Sounded like two to me,” Kid told him.

“Me too. Probably the Blackstone brothers I read about in town.” Heyes turned back to the sheriff. “Tell us about Tyler Mason sheriff. I’d like to know who we’re dealing with. What sort of man is he?”

“The sort that will kill you, as soon as look at you.” He knew that did not help. “Tyler Mason was trouble from the minute he rode into town. Shot a man after he accused him of cheating in a poker game and I suspect that he was; beat up one of the saloon girls when she wouldn’t go with him. Not that Sally would admit it to me; she was far too scared for that. Tyler beat his brother, Tom, near to death when he laughed at him for falling off his horse, when he was drunk.” The sheriff shook his head. “When Mason tried to rob the bank in one way it was best thing he could have done. Finally gave us something solid to charge him with. Of course he killed one if the bank tellers and that was not ……well we didn’t want that.” He shot an apologetic glance at Jacob and Beth. “Tyler was so drunk when we caught up with him even my deputy could have arrested him. His fool of a brother should have just let us take him but instead, he came at us shooting and hollering. I sure didn’t mean to kill him.”

***

Tyler Mason and Clay Blackstone were crouched down behind a rock reloading their rifles and six guns when, Bobby Blackstone scrambled out of the bushes to collapse beside them.

“Where have you been?” Mason demanded to know.

“Didn’t want to get my head blowed off,” Bobby told him. “Came the long way.” He winked at his brother who sat beside Mason. Tyler Mason was a tall thick set man with a hard square face and a broken nose. His piercing brown eyes focussed on Bobby making him nervous although he had no reason to be. He gave Mason a weak smile. “So what‘s your plan?”

“I’ll get the sheriff out here and kill him. How does that sound?” Mason asked rhetorically.

“Tyler, there’s something I gotta tell you,” Bobby began but Mason waved him away. “Tyler it’s important,” Bobby insisted.

“Nothing you have to say is ever important,” Mason said dismissively and Bobby sat back against the boulder dejected. Okay, so he wouldn’t tell Tyler about Kid Curry. He’d keep it to himself until the time was right and then Tyler would be sorry. He’d show Tyler Mason he had important information.

***

Shots had ruined Beth’s ornate cabinets and the family pieces of china they held but, as she crouched beside her husband, reloading his gun, she did not have time to care. The one thing that concerned them all was surviving the current hale of bullets that ripped through the cabin. Mason had called for the sheriff again and when Ellis Henry had sensibly refused to go out and face him, the shooting had started. From inside the house the four men returned fire. Heyes wondered how many bullets the men outside had brought with them, impressed by that piece of planning at least. Another volley of shots hit the house and more splinters of wood and stone flew about them. Suddenly Heyes cried out and fell backwards, away from the window. Kid was soon at his side as Heyes sat on the floor, his right hand holding the upper part of his left arm.

“You hit?” Kid asked and his question was answered by a flow of blood seeping between Heyes’ fingers. “Let me look.” Heyes complied and after a minute Kid said, “Just a graze.”

“It might be just a graze to you but it hurts like hell,” Heyes informed him as he winced. Kid smiled at his cousin’s indignation. “It’s a legitimate bullet wound. I’m allowed them too you know.” Kid untied the bandana around Heyes’ neck and tied it carefully around the wound.

“Think you can stand?” Kid asked somewhat sarcastically, hiding a smile that was as much of relief as it was amusement at his cousin’s manner.

“I’ll try,” Heyes told him with just the hint of the wounded martyr in his voice. Kid helped him to his feet as best he could.

“You think you’ll be all right?” Kid asked and Heyes saw the genuine concern in his partner’s blue eyes along with just a little amusement. Heyes smiled.

“You know me Thaddeus; I’m not one to complain.”

“Whatever you say Joshua,” Kid replied leaning against the wall the strain of just trying to stay on his feet, and remain conscious, showing on his face.

The shooting suddenly stopped. What now they wondered.

“Sheriff you gonna come out yet?” Tyler Mason called from his hiding place.

“You know my answer,” the sheriff told him.

“Well it’ll be dark soon. I could give you folks some more light…..maybe a little extra warmth too,” Mason said cryptically. “I bet that roof would light up real pretty. That might help you see things more clearly.” Mason suggested ominously. Beth had a look of horror on her face as she moved closer to her husband.

“Jacob, they wouldn’t would they?”

“I don’t know Beth,” he replied honestly. “I wouldn’t put anything past this fella.”

“You want us to burn you out sheriff?” Mason asked. “You know I’ll do it. Maybe you folks in there can make the sheriff see some sense before its too late for you all.” Before they had time to digest what Mason was suggesting the firing began again.

A bullet hit the window close to Kid’s face and, leaping quickly back, he felt the stitches break at his side. He held the wall for support as a wave of nausea passed over him, and the searing pain began to die to a dull ache. Dammit that hurt. Kid felt his side. He knew the wound had opened up again and it wasn’t long before he saw blood on his shirt. Kid turned away from the others. He did not want them to see this. He did not need Heyes’ concern right now; they had bigger battles to fight and Heyes would only fuss over him; not that he wasn’t grateful, for his cousin’s care. Kid raised his gun and pointed it out of the window at a figure racing towards the barn. With two quick shots the figure fell and crawled behind the barn. Although he did not know it Kid Curry had just wounded Clay Blackstone.

***

“What about Kid Curry?” Bobby asked, pleased with the look that appeared on Tyler’s face, as he revealed what he considered his trump card. Mason was crouched low behind a water trough trying to find a good vantage point for Bobby to get close enough, to throw a couple of torches onto the cabin roof.

“What?” Mason asked not sure he had heard the fool correctly.

“Kid Curry. He’s in there too,” Bobby told him, as he bandaged the gun shot wound on Clay’s leg. They were behind the barn preparing for their final assault on the house. Clay had been collecting the things they needed to make torches, when he was hit by Kid’s bullet.

“What are you talking about? You been out in the sun too long?”

“I saw him go in there,” Bobby explained. “Came out of the barn with another fella; think he was a deputy. Looked like Curry was hurt too. But it was Kid Curry all right.”

“And how would you know that?” Mason demanded to know as he wriggled back behind the barn.

“The Devil’s Hole gang was hooraying a town once, after they done a job and we was there,” Bobby explained and Clay nodded at the memory. “Pretty little gal at the saloon wouldn’t even look at me once Curry arrived.”

“She wouldn’t look at you before he got there either, Bobby,” Clay added much to the annoyance of his brother.

“Shut up Clay!” Bobby hissed. “Some fool tried to draw on Curry,” Bobby went on. “I was right beside the man, and I’d have been hit too if he’d fired, but Curry was so cool. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He just knew he could beat that man. He weren’t scared at all. Never seen a man that fast neither.” Tyler pondered on this new information.

“He’s worth what?” he asked.

“Reward?” Bobby asked and Tyler nodded. “Ten thousand dollars last I heard.”

“Ten thousand dollars. Now that would be worth trading the sheriff for. You’d better be right Bobby.”

“I am Tyler, I am.”

Tyler turned his attention to the house. He called out.

“Sheriff. You hear me?”

“I hear you,” came the reply.

“How about we make a deal and those nice folks in there won’t get hurt?”

“What have you got in mind?” the sheriff asked.

“Send out Kid Curry and we’ll take him instead of you.”

You could hear a pin drop inside the house. Everyone froze. Heyes made a conscious effort not to look at Kid who had his eyes fixed firmly on the floor.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the sheriff replied, never taking his eyes off of Mr. Jones, as his hand tightened on his gun.

“We know he’s your prisoner sheriff, and hurt too.” All eyes now turned to look at Kid. “Send him out sheriff, before we start shooting again. I hear the reward’s good dead or alive. Makes no difference to me.”

Sheriff Ellis Henry turned to face Kid Curry. He was very careful not to point his gun at him.

“Mr. Jones, do you know what he’s talking about?” he asked and Heyes knew the sheriff believed Mason. He’d been suspicious of them from the start and now Mason had just confirmed those suspicions. Kid looked so tired, as if the fight was going out of him.

“This happens all the time sheriff; people thinking Thaddeus is someone he’s not,” Heyes said, leaping to his partner’s defence. “I guess he just has a common face.” Kid would have given Heyes a look if he’d had the strength to do so. Instead he was just glad to let him talk.

“Why I remember once down in Mexico it took us a whole week to convince the Mayor, of this little town, that he wasn’t the man who jilted his daughter. Remember that Thaddeus?” Kid smiled weakly at Heyes, grateful for his partner’s attempt to help him out but he did not think Heyes was having much success. The sheriff was still looking at him, as if he was comparing him with the description on his wanted poster.

“Thank you, Mr. Smith,” the sheriff interrupted Heyes mid flow. “I’d like to hear what Mr. ‘Jones’ has to say for himself. If you don’t mind?” Heyes shot a supportive look at Kid who looked too weak to care.

“D’you really think he’s Kid Curry?” Heyes was angry now. His own arm throbbed and he was in more pain than he liked to admit. “What do you want to do? Push him outside? Hell lets rip his bandage off and maybe he’ll bleed to death before they get a chance to shoot him. Will that ease your conscience sheriff?” He glared at Ellis Henry angry at his treatment of his partner. The sheriff remained silent.

“D’you want me to go outside?” Kid asked, still leaning against the wall for support. For a minute Heyes wondered what Kid was doing.

“I don’t know. Are you Kid Curry?” Kid looked at the sheriff. Both men had their guns in their hands and Heyes knew that, even in his current state, Kid could get off a shot before the sheriff. Heyes just did not know what Kid was going to do and that troubled him. The pain in his arm troubled him too but he was trying not to show that.

“Sheriff, does it matter who anyone is?” Beth asked and all eyes fell on her. “No one is leaving this house and you know it. Those men out there will kill anyone that steps outside and, if I remember rightly, Kid Curry didn’t kill anyone in any of the robberies he did. So even if Thaddeus was Kid Curry, it wouldn’t be right to send him out to those murderers.” She turned to look at Kid.

“Look at Mr. Jones, Sheriff. Does he look like the infamous bank robber to you?” The sheriff was remembering his first view of Mr. Jones, cleaning his gun in the barn. Yes, he wanted to say, he did look like a very dangerous bank robber, but for now he held his tongue.

“He’s Curry all right,” but this came from Jacob not the sheriff. Beth stood stunned by her husband’s revelation. “I heard him when he had a fever. Now hush Beth, I know you heard him too. I know you’re taken with him because he reminds you of William but he’s not William. He’s an outlaw and William was killed by an outlaw; by a man just like him.” He was looking at Kid now, and he couldn’t hide his anger, but it was anger at the man who had killed his son, that he was now venting on Kid Curry.

“Jacob,” Beth pleaded but her husband would have none of it.

“This man’s a thief. He takes things that don’t belong to him. Things others have worked long and hard for and we don’t owe him a thing.” Heyes could see how that wounded Kid but his partner said nothing in his own defence. In fact he looked a little defeated by it.

“Jacob, he’s been fighting to keep us alive,” Beth said.

“He’s been fighting to save his own skin. Don’t you be fooled by those blue eyes Beth. He’d probably kill you as soon as look at you.” As he said it, Jacob knew it was not true but he was angry. Angry at the men who had murdered his son; angry at the men who were outside and had threatened his wife and his home and angry at his own inability to do anything about either. He turned to look at Heyes. “They’re not Bannerman men. They’re both bank robbers and thieves. Turn them over to them sheriff. Save us instead.”

“Mr. Curry, d’you have anything to say?” the sheriff asked finally revealing that he knew who Kid was. Kid remained silent; his eyes downcast as he leant against the wall. He had his arm across his stomach holding his injured side. His gun hung loosely in his right hand. Kid was a picture of total dejection and that worried Heyes. “Mr. Curry?” The sheriff repeated when Kid did not respond. Kid raised his eyes to look first at the sheriff and then, with a pained expression, at his partner.

“Mr. Chorley,” Kid said addressing Jacob. “We’ve risked our lives to help you; to help your wife and to save your home and the sheriff. I’m really grateful to you for all your help. For your wife’s help, in looking after me, but you should know something. We could have gone. We could have left you here, made a deal with Mason or just made a run for it but we didn’t. We stayed. Stayed, knowing how dangerous it was. Stayed, even knowing you had a pretty good idea who we were, because we’re trying to go straight. We haven’t robbed a bank or a train in over a year and we don’t intend to ever again. We stayed because this time you needed our help.” It was a big speech for Kid said with all the conviction he could manage. Kid didn’t often reveal his feelings to others and Heyes felt a swell of pride as his cousin spoke. However Kid looked exhausted. He took a deep breath and that seemed to cause him some pain.

“Now if you want to hand us over to Mason…..or have the sheriff lock us up…….I…..I guess…I guess we can’t…..” Kid hung his head, his breathing growing fast and shallow. He was tired, so tired. Heyes saw Kid’s eyes begin to close and moved towards him. Kid’s knees buckled and Heyes caught him before he hit the floor and he gently lowered him to the ground. Beth produced a cushion for Kid’s head. Heyes looked at the blood stain on his partner’s shirt.

“Oh Kid, why didn’t you say something? Looks like the wound’s opened up again,” he said with concern as he unbuttoned Kid’s shirt to reveal a blood soaked bandage. How much blood could one man stand to lose?

“Heyes?” Kid muttered in his semi-conscious state. The sheriff exchanged a look with Hannibal Heyes and then gave a slight smile. Well who else would Mr. Smith be? “Heyes?”

“Yeah, Kid I’m here.” There was no need to pretend anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Kid said, as Beth handed Heyes a clean bandage. He placed it over the wound, feeling Kid flinch as he applied a little pressure to help stop the bleeding. “Sorry, I got you into this.”

“If it ain’t my fault Kid, it’s certainly not yours,” Heyes told him. He placed Kid’s hand on the fresh bandage. “Try to apply a little pressure if you can,” he said and Kid groaned as he did as Heyes suggested. Heyes stood up and faced the sheriff.

“So sheriff, what do we do now?” he asked and the sheriff was aware that Heyes hand hung beside his gun, whether intentionally or not it signalled a readiness to draw. Curry was the gunslinger but he had heard that Heyes was faster than most. Was he really ready to draw on Hannibal Heyes? No that was not the sheriff’s intention at all.

“We deal with this later,” Sheriff Ellis Henry told him and he raised a hand to stop Jacob before he could add anything. “Jacob, these men did not kill your son. They are wanted but not for murder and I for one, will not send anyone out into the clutches of Tyler Mason.” Beth stood behind her husband and Heyes saw the relieved expression on her face. He turned back to Heyes.

“Mr. Heyes, do I have your word that you will not try to harm either the Chorleys or myself?” Jacob was dumbstruck to hear what the sheriff was asking. Heyes was also a little surprised by the sheriff’s request.

“Sheriff, you have my word. We need to work together to get through this.”

“My sentiments entirely,” the sheriff concurred and at that gave a sneeze, as the dust hanging in the air, got up his nose. As he apologised he found Heyes staring at him as an idea formed in his head. He turned to see Kid struggling to his knees.

“Hey, take it easy,” Heyes told him. “You should stay down.”

“Help me up,” Kid said firmly.

“Okay but sit down over here.” Heyes helped him to the wall and Kid sat on the floor with his back resting against a wooden beam. Sweat ran down the temples of his pale face. Heyes turned to the sheriff.

“Mason didn’t know Kid was shot, did he?”

“Said he knew he was injured that’s all,” the sheriff told him.

“He must have seen us coming from the barn,” Heyes surmised.

“What’s on your mind?” the sheriff asked.

“What if the Kid’s sick?”

“Heyes, what are you thinking?” Kid asked and Heyes addressed everyone.

“What if Kid has some disease? That’s why the doctor was here, that’s why you’re here sheriff.” He turned to look at Ellis Henry and could tell the man was willing to go along with any plan Heyes had, if it sounded like it would work. “You came out here to tell the Chorley’s they’d have to be in quarantine or something. Kid has…er.” He tried to think of a suitable disease.

“Kid has what?” Kid Curry asked not sure if he liked the way Heyes’ mind was working.

“Nephratitis,” Heyes announced.

“Nephra what?” Kid asked.

“I don’t know, I made it up,” Heyes told him. “Mason’s not that bright is he?” The sheriff shook his head and Heyes was satisfied.

“So Kid Curry is suffering from Nephratitis,” Heyes continued. “And you’ve come to tell the Chorley’s to stay away from town,” he told the sheriff.

“What about me?” Ellis Henry asked somewhat sceptical of the story Heyes was constructing. “Why can I go back? What about the doctor?” Heyes considered this.

“You have immunity. Some people do right?” Beth nodded at Heyes.

“Or we had it as children,” she suggested helpfully. “That’s often the way it works.” Heyes could have kissed her for playing along.

“Exactly. Beth and Jacob you’re immune because you had it as children. The Doc and the Sheriff had it too.”

“What about you?” the sheriff asked.

“Well they don’t seem to know who I am. If they knew I was Hannibal Heyes they would have said so by now but if they know Kid’s injured then they saw us together coming from the barn. Let’s say I’m your deputy…but I’ve got it too.”

“Neper…a…titis?” The sheriff attempted the name of Heyes’ new disease.

“Exactly. So Tyler Mason can have Kid Curry…because he’s already dead,” Heyes announced.

“Now wait a minute!” Kid explained and his partner gave him an apologetic smile. “Oh thanks a lot Heyes. I sure feel close to death but you mind telling me why you have to finish me off?”

“You shot one of them right?”

“Yeah, in the leg.”

“And we think there are only three of them, Mason and the Blackstone brothers. So if one is shot and we send out Kid Curry’s body it’ll take two of them to collect it. They’ll have to come out of hiding.”

“My body?” Kid asked with some concern.

“Don’t worry Kid it won’t be you.”

“So who will it be?”

“Me,” Heyes informed him.

“Now wait a minute Heyes, you’re not thinking of going out there?” Kid asked with concern.

“We have to draw them out. You heard what they said, they’ll torch this place and we both know they could do just that.”

“So you intend to go out there playing dead?” Kid was a struggling unsuccessfully to get to his feet.

“And you expect them to just come out of hiding? To collect the body of a man with a contagious disease?” the sheriff asked. “And then we shoot them? Why would they put themselves in that kind of danger?”

“Well I haven’t sorted out all the details yet but I’m working on it,” Heyes assured them.

“Well you’d better work faster Heyes, if that’s the only plan you got,” Kid told him.

The sound of shooting interrupted Heyes’ thoughts and once again everyone dived for cover but it soon became clear that no one was shooting at the house. Heyes and the sheriff risked a tentative look out of the windows and were surprised to see men on horseback riding towards the barn. Bringing up the rear on his slow horse was Doctor Mears.

***

“I was on my way to check on Mr. Jones when I heard shots being fired,” the doctor explained later as they stood on the porch. “When I heard the shooting I risked a quick look and it soon became clear you were under siege. So I rode back to town to summon help.” He was clearly surprised with his own bravery and somewhat rightly pleased with himself.

“Well I’m sure grateful to you Sam,” Ellis Henry told him. “We were beginning to run out of options.” He gave Heyes a rueful smile and at that moment the doctor spotted the blood soaked bandana attached to Heyes’ arm.

“Looks like I have another patient to attend to.”

***

It was a few days later that Hannibal Heyes decided Kid Curry was finally strong enough to stay on a horse. His partner would tell you that he had been strong enough a day or two before that but just did not have the strength to argue with Heyes. Both agreed it was time for them to move on. They said their farewells to Jacob and Beth, noting Jacob’s obvious relief that they were leaving and not taking offence by it. They rode up the hill away from the house. Ellis Henry had gone against everything he had promised as a lawman and let the outlaws go free.

“I wondered why Lom Trevors, a respected sheriff, would say he knew Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones and not just tell me they were Heyes and Curry and to arrest them immediately,” the sheriff told them as he sat on his horse ready to leave the Chorley’s homestead after the doctor’s timely rescue. “The way I heard it Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry haven’t robbed a train or a bank in a long time. Seems to me I heard something about the Governor offering them an amnesty?”

“That’s right sheriff,” Heyes said. “”We’re not supposed to tell anyone but like Kid said we’ve stayed out of trouble for over a year now and we hope that the Governor will eventually do as he promised and grant us that amnesty.”

“I wish you both well.” Ellis Henry leaned forward and offered each man his hand. “Mr. Smith. Mr. Jones,” he said pointedly as they shook hands.

“Much obliged Sheriff,” Kid told him.

From the top of the hill they looked back at the Chorley’s farm.

“We we’re lucky there Heyes,” Kid said quietly lost for a moment in his own thoughts.

“Yeah, Kid we were,” his partner agreed. “If Ellis Henry had been a different kind of man we could be in jail right now.”

“Or dead from Nephratitis,” Kid told him and smiled. “Dumbest plan you ever had Heyes.” Heyes gave Kid a hurt look as Kid began to laugh.

“You’re not gonna let me forget this are you?” he asked irritated.

“Nope,” Kid assured him giving Heyes his widest grin.

“Well it’s like you said Kid, bad things happen when we spilt up. You got shot and for a terrible moment there I lost the ability to come up with a good plan.” Kid smiled at him and Heyes smiled too. It was good to have his partner beside him once again.

THE END

Advertisements

One thought on “Nephratitis: Bad Things Happen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s