Poison Angel

Poison Angel

By Maz McCoy

The young girl watched the blond curly-haired man as he lifted the sacks of flour into her father’s wagon. Sweat ran down his face and stained the back of his red shirt. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, then returned to the back of the General Store for more of the provisions her father had bought. As he came out carrying a bag of beans, he noticed the young girl watching him and suppressed a smile. He had seen her earlier in the store with her parents; a young girl, about twelve years old, dressed like a boy in jeans and a shirt but on the verge of womanhood. She was pretty too with her long blonde hair tied in a pony tail, big blue eyes, soft clear skin and the early signs of the woman she was to be, showing in her body shape. Kid Curry was sure she would break more than her share of hearts someday soon.

“This your Pa’s wagon?” he asked as he hefted the beans on board. She was momentarily dumbstruck. He had spoken to her. What should she say?

“Yep,” she replied and then cursed herself for sounding so stupid, so much like a farm hand. Kid smiled.

“Where you headed?” This she did know the answer to.

“Lemon Creek. My Uncle has a farm there. We’re going to help him run it and my Pa and Uncle William are gonna build us a house there too.”

“You been there before?” Kid asked and, pausing for a moment, he leant against the wagon.

“No. We ain’t never been nowhere this far west before.” She looked nervously along the street.

“A little scary sometimes, isn’t it?” Kid said and she nodded. “But don’t worry this is a nice town.”

“Yeah, but we’re leaving today with the Dawsons,” she told him and she did not sound pleased.

“Friends of yours?”

“Not really. Pa met them yesterday. They’re headed our way and they thought it would be safer if we travelled together.”

“They’re right. It can be dangerous sometimes for a wagon travelling alone.”

“Yeah, but they’ve got Jethro.”

“Jethro?”

“He’s their boy. He’s only eight. I think I’m expected to look after him.”

“Oh.” Kid could see how having an eight year old boy around could cramp her style.

“Hey Jones get in here.” Kid turned as Mr. Grizzly, the store owner, called him. He gave the young girl a wink, at which she blushed, and headed into the store.

Hannibal Heyes stood behind the counter serving two elderly ladies as Kid Curry entered the store. Heyes was at his most charming as he packaged up their goods and bade them a good day. When the ladies had left, Old Grizzly, as he was known to most people in town, turned to address them.

“Boys, you know I appreciate all you’ve done for me over the past few weeks but I’m going to have to let you go now.” He held up a hand. “Before you start asking, you ain’t done nothing wrong. I just can’t afford to pay you both anymore and I know you well enough now to know one of you won’t stay, if the other can’t. So today’s your last day.” He seemed uncomfortable and could not look either of them in the eye.

“This is a bit of a surprise Grizz,” Heyes said coming out from behind the counter. “Are you sure there isn’t something else you’re not telling us?” The old man looked sheepish.

“Grizz?” Kid said his concern growing.

“All right. I heard the deputy muttering in the saloon last night. Said something about you boys and how he still thought he knew you from somewhere.” Heyes and Curry exchanged a look. “You sure upset him when you won that money off him Joshua.”

“What else did he say?” Heyes asked.

“Not much, just that he was going to be looking through his wanted posters.”

“Do you believe we’re wanted?” Heyes asked and Grizz thought back to when he had first met them a month ago walking along the road a long way outside of town both dusty and dirty, carrying their saddle bags. Thaddeus had still born the marks of a recent beating. Grizz had pulled his buckboard to a halt to offer them a lift but, as he reached down to get a water bottle, Thaddeus’ gun had been in his hand faster than anything Grizz had ever seen. The boy had been nervous about something, that was for sure. “Do you?” Heyes repeated.

“I’ll be honest with you boys. I’m not sure. I like you and you’ve both worked real hard around here. You’re real trustworthy too, so I don’t know what they think you done. I’d like to keep you on but…”

“But you won’t,” Kid said a hard edge creeping into his voice.

“It’s not that Thaddeus. If you boys are wanted I don’t want you to get caught.” He moved closer to them. “Those nice folks with the wagon are heading out this afternoon. They’re pretty green I reckon and they could use some help and a couple of good guides to get them safely to Lemon Creek. I suggested your names to them. They’ll feed you and I said I’d give them $40 to give each of you when you get there. Be my thank you, for all your help, and for having to let you go sudden like. What do you say?” Heyes looked at his partner. Kid was clearly hurt by what he felt was a betrayal by Grizz, a man they had both come to like and respect.

“What do you think Thaddeus?” Heyes asked, running a hand through his dark hair.

“I think I need to finish loading their wagon,” he said, disappointment dripping from his words, as he went back to the store room. Heyes watched him go. Give him time, he thought. It was not like Kid to take it so much to heart, but he knew he liked Grizz and the town. No matter how hard they were trying to go straight, and lead decent lives, the past kept catching up with them. Was that how it would always be?

***

“My Pa says you might be coming with us. Is that right Mister?” The young girl was sitting on the back of the wagon swinging her legs, as Kid approached with a box. Her smile was infectious and as Kid slid the box in beside her, he noticed how her eyes dropped down shyly as he got nearer.

“Yep,” he said standing back and she looked up at him, her smile broadening. “Seems you could do with a guide to Lemon Creek.”

“And you’re going to be it?”

“Me and my partner,” Kid informed her. “You got a name?” he asked her.

“Lily,” she said. Kid held out his hand.

“Thaddeus. Pleased to meet you, Lily,” he said politely as they shook hands. “I look forward to travelling with you Miss. We’ll see you later.” Kid smiled as she pushed herself off the wagon and ran to tell her parents. Kid turned to see Heyes leaning against the store wall.

“Seems you’ve made the decision for us,” he said but there was no hint of a reprimand in his voice. “Should have known a pretty woman would have won you over.” He smiled at his partner.

“Ah Heyes, she’s just a kid.”

“Yeah, but you’re not.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked as he followed his partner back inside.

***

Two Conestoga wagons, with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry riding beside them, pulled out of Foster Junction later that afternoon heading towards the farm of William Partridge in Lemon Creek. Old Grizzly saw them off with a tinge of regret at losing two good workers and two men he had begun to think of as friends. If they were wanted, and he suspected from their lack of real protestations that they were, he could not think what it would be for. They had proved themselves to be hard working; trustworthy men and he felt certain the Partridges and the Dawsons would be safe in their care.

Lily Partridge, who announced her age as thirteen and a quarter should anyone ask, rode in the wagon behind her mother Eve and her father James. Both were in their thirties and grateful to Mr. Grizzly for finding them guides for the journey to William’s farm. It had been a difficult decision to leave their own small farm but the land had been growing increasingly unproductive for some years and the promise of rich farmland and a new life beckoned. James was eager to see his older brother and his new family. Although they had written often he had not seen William in over five years.

James’ wife, Eve, was a pretty woman. It was clear Lily had inherited her mother’s long blonde hair and blue eyes. Although she was slight of frame, she was as tough as they came, and could more than hold her own on the farm. There were few jobs Eve would not have a go at. James could see why his daughter was growing up a tomboy.

The Dawsons’ wagon brought up the rear. Kendrick Dawson was a tall thin man with a long black beard and a pointed nose. He looked like a preacher but had been a gambler, a travelling medicine man and a bartender at various times in his life. He was approaching forty now and had decided to try his hand at farming. He had heard there was more land to be had outside of Lemon Creek and he was taking his family there, to begin their new life as farmers. Evangeline Dawson was as tall as her husband but twice his width. She prided herself in being an excellent cook and had volunteered to take charge of the meals for everyone on the journey. Evangeline kept her thick black hair piled up high on her head and tied it there with a red ribbon, a hint that, in her life before meeting Kendrick, she had worked as a singer and dancer amongst other professions in several saloons this side of the Mississippi. Evangeline sat next to Kendrick and watched Thaddeus Jones ride by. She waved to the younger man and he smiled back, touching the edge of his hat as he did so. Evangeline liked what she saw.

Jethro Dawson was eight years old and at times more trouble than either of his parents could handle. He had his father’s black hair, cut short, his mother’s brown eyes and amazing long eyelashes which made him appear more of an angelic child than he was. At that moment Jethro was working on making a catapult with which he planned to torment Lily later. He rode in the back of the wagon but stuck his head out of the flaps to talk to Mister Smith.

“You ever shot anyone?” he asked. Heyes looked at the boy and saw a little of himself at that age in the mischievous scamp.

“Once or twice,” Heyes replied honestly.

“You ever killed anyone? You ever killed any Indians?” Heyes smiled at Jethro’s questions.

“Indians? No. Small boys? About eight years old? Yep.” Jethro thought about this and then gave Heyes a grin, revealing a gap where a tooth had recently fallen out.

“I don’t believe you,” he told Heyes as he disappeared inside to finish the catapult.

***

Lily watched Thaddeus ride by the wagon. He sure was handsome. She decided that going to her Uncle’s farm was the best idea her Pa had ever had. She would write that in her journal later. She had taken to hiding it, since Jethro took an interest when she was writing in it, just after they set out from Foster Junction.

“Can I walk for a while?” she asked her parents and James Partridge slowed the team long enough for his daughter to jump down. It did not take her long to catch up to Thaddeus. He smiled now as Lily walked alongside Mr. Jones’ horse. It was clear she had taken a shine to the young cowboy. James was keeping his eye on him. Eve had them under total scrutiny.

Lilly walked alongside Thaddeus’ horse as the wagons moved slowly across the grassland. They moved to the rhythm of the horses. It was a hot sunny day and Lily wore her cowboy hat to shade her eyes.

“What will you do after we get to Lemon Creek?” she asked Kid.

“I don’t know. We move around a lot. We’ll probably look for some work, maybe find a cattle drive passing through,” he told the top of her hat.

“You could stay and work for us,” she suggested enthusiastically.

“Lily, I’m not much of a farmer,” he replied seeing the disappointment on her face.

“You could learn.”

“I could,” he admitted. “But I’m not sure I want to.” This also disappointed her and she fell silent for a while. Her paced slowed and she dropped back a little. Kid slowed his horse until he was beside her once again. Leaning over he peered down at her pretty but now gloomy face. “You all right?” he asked.

“Yeah. I just like having you and Joshua around,” she told him honestly.

“We like being with you too.” He thought for a moment seeing this did nothing to cheer her. “D’you want to ride with me to that ridge?” he asked pointing to a low hill off to the left.

“I don’t have a horse,” she reminded him.

“You could ride with me. That is, if your folks will let you.” It was as if he had just given her a hundred dollars to spend. Lily’s face lit up and she raced back to her parents’ wagon without another word. He could see her babbling animated conversation and then she ran back to him.

“They said I can,” she cried in delight. He removed his foot from a stirrup then hauled her up behind him.

“Hold on tight,” he told her as she wrapped her arms around his waist and he held her hands in one of his own. Kid was careful not to ride too fast. He felt Lily lean against him and hold on as tight as she dared. He could not see the smile on her face although he was more than aware that she was happy.

From the ridge they sat and watched the wagons rolling by. Lily waved to her parents and Jethro, who she knew would be so envious. They all waved back enthusiastically. Kid made sure they stayed in sight of her parents at all times before returning her to them. Lily climbed off Thaddeus’ horse straight onto the wagon. She decided there and then that she was going to marry a man just like Thaddeus Jones.

***

“You got yourself an admirer,” Heyes stated as Kid climbed off his horse having dropped Lily off at her parents’ wagon.

“Can I help it if I have that affect on women? Lily is a sweet kid.” He gave his partner a smile. “Besides you seem to have got yourself an apprentice in Jethro.”

“The boy’s a smart lad. Reminds me a little of us too. He asks so many questions you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Heyes, you’re forgetting I grew up with you. I know how many questions some boys ask.”

“I was never that bad,” Heyes protested.

“Heyes you were worse!” Heyes looked a little hurt and thought about this for a moment.

***

“Mister Jones,” Eve said as she approached Kid.

“Please Ma’am, call me Thaddeus,” he insisted.

“All right Thaddeus. Can I have a word with you?” He nodded and they walked beside the wagons which had stopped for their lunchtime rest. Eve got straight to the point. “Lily is still a young girl and at such an impressionable age,” she started and Kid knew exactly where this mother’s s conversation was going. It was one several mother’s had had with him over the years.

“Ma’am before you…” but she was going to have her say and held up a hand to stop him.

“Hear me out, please,” she insisted. “I like you Thaddeus. You seem like a nice man and I’m grateful for your help and your partner’s too. Lily has taken a real shine to you, that’s plain to see. I think she’s a little infatuated with you. Don’t you be fooling with her affections. Don’t you hurt my daughter or you’ll have me to answer to.”

“Ma’am. Eve. You have nothing to worry about. I like Lily, she’s a great kid but she’s still a child. I know that. I would never do anything to hurt her nor anything you need worry about.” He looked directly at her and Eve could see the sincerity of his words.

“Thank you,” she said placing a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry I had to say these things to you but….”

“It’s all right. I understand. You’re just protecting your daughter.” Kid held his arm out to Eve. “Walk you back?” he asked and she could see why her daughter had fallen for this charming man. As she linked her arm in his they heard a scream.

Eve and Kid Curry raced to the other side of the wagons and the others joined them. They all froze. Lily stood perfectly still a short way away from the wagons trying not to stare at the rattlesnake at her feet.

“Lily don’t move,” her Pa told her although Lily had already worked that out for herself. Kid moved to get a better view of the snake.

“Lily, d’you trust me?” Kid asked her but the terrified girl did not answer. “D’you trust me?” he repeated, louder this time.

“Yes,” she said her voice shaking.

“Then close your eyes.” Everyone looked at him in confusion as he crept behind them. Lily could not take her eyes from the snake, that seemed ready to strike at her leg, but she knew Thaddeus was moving closer. “Close your eyes,” he said and she did as he asked.

The shot blew the snake’s head off. Eve ran to her daughter and had Lily in her arms, both of them sobbing with relief, as Kid holstered his gun.

As Heyes rode in fast, having heard the gunshot, he quickly assessed the situation. Kendrick was holding up a snake’s body and head in separate hands, Eve and Lily were in tears, Jethro was staring at Kid his mouth open in awe and James was slapping Kid on the back as he pumped his hand in thanks.

“You been playing the hero again?” Heyes asked as he led his horse towards his partner. Kid said nothing.

“Wow, Joshua, you should have seen it. Thaddeus blew a rattlesnake’s head off with one shot. Pow!” He demonstrated for Heyes benefit. “I never seen anyone draw that fast, never.”

“One shot huh?” Heyes nodded, impressed as the boy continued to stare at Kid and his gun, his allegiance to Heyes suddenly in doubt. Kid turned to the boy.

“You know that was pretty slow compared to my partner here.” Jethro turned to face Heyes.

“You can do that too?” His eyes wide with expectation and clearly impressed.

“He’d have shot it between the eyes,” Kid told him and Heyes was once again the focus of Jethro’s hero worship and Heyes gave Kid a look that said ‘don’t over do it’.

“Will you show me?” Jethro pleaded.

“I think your Pa wants you,” Heyes told him and the boy reluctantly ran off to where he was wanted. “Thank you,” Heyes said to Kid.

“Heyes, you’re his hero, not me,” Kid said generously.

“Anyone else pick up on the fast draw?” Heyes asked him.

“I think they’re just glad Lily’s safe,” Kid told him but Heyes was watching the others, looking for any sign that their suspicions had been aroused.

***

Kid walked his horse behind the wagons. It was his turn to bring up the rear, not exactly riding drag, and he could see Heyes walking up front with Lily and Jethro, enthralling them no doubt with one of his stories. One that might even include the adventures of two famous outlaws.

“Do you mind if I walk with you for a spell?” Evangeline Dawson asked as she approached him.

“No ma’am,” he replied politely.

“Oh Thaddeus, you don’t have to call me that.” The southern lilt in her voice shining through. “In fact when I was a singer, they called me Angel. You can call me that if you like.” Her eyes blatantly flirting with him as her body swayed suggestively. Kid thought it best not to say anything. He looked ahead to Heyes and the children. Evangeline noticed the direction of his gaze.

“You saved her life. You’re her big hero now,” she stated. “I think she has her heart set on you.”

“She’s just a child,” Kid reminded her.

“But honey, you’re a man in her eyes.” Angel placed a hand on his arm to stop him. Kid looked at her.

“You got your eyes on anyone, Thaddeus?” she asked brazenly taking a deep breath as she did so to give Kid the full effect. Kid did not like the way the conversation was going. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

“I think we’d better catch up to the others,” he told her but she kept her hand on his arm.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“No ma’am I didn’t.” He looked at her. “I’m doing my job here. Shall we go?” Her face changed from flirtatious to one of anger and loathing. She was not used to being rebuffed and did not take his rejection well. Evangeline stormed off back to her husband. Kid hoped that was the end of it. Unfortunately for him, Evangeline did not feel the same way.

***

Kid groaned as he woke the next morning. The ground felt harder than usual, his head hurt and his stomach was tight. He struggled irritably to throw off his blanket then swayed a little as he got to his feet.

“You alright?” Heyes asked as he handed Kid a cup of coffee. Kid rubbed his eyes.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he lied as he took the coffee. “Just a bit of a headache.” He looked down at the coffee and Heyes knew instantly what his partner was thinking.

“No, I didn’t make it!” he said feigning anger. “Evangeline gave me them. Said she made it especially for you. Another admirer Kid?” Kid waved him away.

“Oh Heyes, don’t start. She was batting her eyelashes at me yesterday. I’m trying to keep my distance from Mrs. Dawson. I don’t want Kendrick to think there’s anything going on between us.”

“You mean you and Angel?” Kid gave him a murderous sideways glance.

***

Kid’s stomach hurt. It must have been something he ate the night before, he thought. Kid and Heyes had ridden out to scout the lie of the land and find the best way through for the wagons. They were riding alongside some scrubland and had split up to cover more ground. Heyes had just reached the top of a ridge.

Maybe the bacon was off, Kid thought as his stomach began to cramp painfully. He was sweating too but a cool breeze was blowing that morning. The next cramp felt as if he was being ripped apart from the inside out and he doubled up in pain over his saddle horn. Kid had lost sight of Heyes but at that moment he could only concentrate on one thing, staying in the saddle. Kid lost that battle as he began to retch.

***

Hannibal Heyes looked back for his blond-haired partner but he was no longer there. He turned his horse back towards where his cousin had gone into the trees. Kid’s horse emerged at that moment but without Kid riding him. Heyes spurred his horse on, caught the reins of Kid’s horse then set off in search of his cousin.

Kid was lying at the foot of a large tree, the remains of his breakfast on the ground just a few feet away. He was holding his stomach and groaning. Heyes jumped off his horse and was quickly by his side.

“Kid, what is it?” Heyes asked.

“I don’t know,” Kid managed to say between waves of cramps that felt as if they would split his body in two. “Stomach hurts something awful……” he cried out as another wave of pain wracked his body.

“Something you ate?” Heyes suggested.

“Maybe…” The pain cut off the rest of his words.

“Can you stand?” Heyes asked conscious of the need to get him back to the wagons.

“I doubt it,” Kid said but with Heyes’ help he struggled to his feet, remaining bent over and holding his stomach.

“We have to get you on your horse,” Heyes told him.

“Forget it Heyes, just shoot me now please,” Kid said as the pain became almost unbearable.

“Will you listen to yourself? Fastest gun in the west and you crumble over a little stomach ache.”

“On second thoughts, why don’t I shoot you instead?” Kid said not even attempting to stand up. Neither man knew exactly what was wrong with Kid and both were a little frightened by the intensity of his pain. Heyes pulled Kid’s horse close to him.

“Give me your hand and I’ll help you,” Heyes instructed and between them they got Kid into the saddle. Heyes took hold of the reins and led Kid’s horse behind his own. Kid slumped over his horse’s neck content to let his partner guide them both.

The others had seen them returning and were well aware that something was wrong before they reached them.

“What is it? What happened?” James asked as Heyes pulled his horse to a halt in front of the party and then jumped down to help Kid. Kid Curry sank to his knees as soon as his feet hit the floor.

“I don’t know,” Heyes told them. “He’s got really bad stomach cramps, could be something he ate. Is anyone else ill?” But no one was. They soon had Kid lying down, covered with a blanket but Heyes had no idea how else to help his partner. Kid tried to drink some water but brought it back up again. Lily and Jethro stood quietly to one side, as the adults spoke in hushed tones, their eyes unable to hide their fear for Thaddeus and for themselves. Was this some terrible disease they might all have caught?

“I may have something that could help,” Kendrick said. “I used to be a medicine man not too long ago. Still have some of my stock.” He disappeared into his wagon and reappeared a few moments later shaking a bottle to mix the contents. Heyes looked at him sceptically.

“Don’t worry. I called it Kendrick’s Cure All but it’s just medicine for an upset stomach I bought off a town doctor.” He could tell Heyes was still not convinced. He held up another bottle and spoke seriously. “Or I have this for the pain. I promise you these are not quack medicines. I was the quack, the medicines were real. I do want to help him.” Heyes knelt down beside his partner.

“D’you want to try any of Kendrick’s stuff?” he asked.

“Right now I’d try anything,” Kid told him unable to hide just how bad he felt.

The stomach mixture seemed to help and the cramps eased a little. Eventually, as night came, Kid fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. As Heyes sat beside his partner, Eve touched his hand and he looked up startled not having heard her approach. Eve smiled as she passed him a cup of coffee.

“You need to rest too,” she told him placing a blanket around his shoulders. Heyes thanked her and looked into his coffee cup. He was soon lost in his own thoughts. How many times had he sat by Kid’s side praying that he would be alright? How many times had Kid had to do the same for him? Was this what their life was always going to be like, moving from one close call to the next? Kid moaned and Heyes watched as his partner writhed from pain but did not wake.

What did Kid eat that no one else had? There was nothing that he could think of. Kid had a headache when he woke up that morning. Heyes thought back to the night before. What had they eaten? They all had the same meal, from the same pot. Then Kid had gone to check on the horses and Evangeline had taken him a cup of coffee. Heyes could not remember seeing her pour it. Then this morning……………… Heyes thoughts came rushing in like freight trains on a collision course with each other. He did not want to believe what he was thinking but he could not think of any other logical explanation. Evangeline had walked up to him that morning with two cups of coffee. Her words to him meant more now than they had then.

“That one is for Thaddeus. I made it especially for him, just the way he likes it. You be sure to give it to him.” And Heyes had merely smiled to himself as another woman thought the way to Kid’s heart was through his stomach. Poor choice of words but in this case she may have got to Kid and definitely through his stomach but not in the way most women hoped.

Kendrick had been a medicine man. What had he said?

“I still have some of my stock.” Had Evangeline put something in Kid’s coffee? And Heyes had handed it to Kid. He felt a rush of guilt. He had no proof. Would she really have done this to him just because he rejected her advances?

“How is he?” Lily’s soft voice startled Heyes and he took a moment before answering. He never even noticed Eve had left.

“He seems calmer. His temperature’s down.” He noted the relief on Lily’s face as she looked at Kid. That’s two people you have worrying about you Kid, Heyes thought.

“Do you think he’s going to die?” she asked, the fear she felt obvious in her eyes and Heyes did not know what to tell her.

“I hope not Lily,” was all he could say and Lily sat down beside him. Until he knew what Kid had been given, there was little more Heyes could do. He looked over his shoulder at the rest of the party seated around the fire. Evangeline looked up and their eyes met. In that moment he knew that she had given Kid something and now she knew, he knew it too. She got quickly to her feet.

“Lily, will you watch Thaddeus for a while?” he asked and she beamed at the chance to do something to help. Heyes walked over to Evangeline as she stood by her wagon.

“We need to talk,” he told her flatly.

“I’m tired Mr. Smith. I was just turning in,” she told him turning away.

“Not yet you don’t,” Heyes said through gritted teeth as he grabbed hold of her arm.

“I could scream,” she informed him.

“And I could break your arm for what you’ve done to my partner,” he said tightening his grip until she gave a small cry of pain. “Now what did you give him?”

“What makes you think I gave him anything?” she asked defiantly.

“The look in your eyes,” he said and she laughed nervously but soon realised he was serious. “What did you give him?” he said again and she feared what this man might do, if he did not control his anger.

“I don’t know,” she said and it all spilled out. “I never meant to hurt him this much. I just wanted to make him sick, the way he made me feel. It was just one of Kendrick’s potions. I threw the bottle away. I don’t know what it was but it didn’t have poison written on it. I wouldn’t do that.” Heyes looked at her with disdain and pulled her close to him so that she would not miss a word of what he was about to say.

“If my partner dies, I’ll tear you apart.” He let go of her arm and walked away. Neither of them knew that Jethro had witnessed the entire exchange.

***

Kid had a restless night. At times the pain woke him at other times exhaustion helped him to sleep. The next morning it was obvious that he would not be able to ride and a space was made for him in the back of the Partridge wagon. Lily rode inside as an attentive nurse. Kid had managed to drink some water but could not eat anything.

“How you doing?” Heyes asked as he climbed into the wagon during their lunch stop.

“I’ve had better days,” his partner replied weakly, his face pale and drawn. Riding in the wagon was a bumpy and uncomfortable way to travel if you did not have to.

“Feel up to trying some soup?” Kid did not look too willing.

“You should try,” Lily told him. “You need to get your strength back.”

“You gonna argue with your nurse?” Heyes asked him.

“I guess not,” Kid said reluctantly, realising when he was beaten. Lily leapt out of the wagon to fetch the soup. It was the first chance Heyes had had to be alone with Kid.

“It was Evangeline,” he said and Kid knew exactly what he meant. “She gave you one of Kendrick’s potions in your coffee.”

“I never tasted a thing. What was it?”

“She says she can’t remember.”

“Oh terrific. So I could have been finished off with hair restorer.” Heyes remained quiet. “So what do we do now?”

“D’you want me to shoot her for you?” Heyes asked only partly in jest.

“No. I’ll do it when I feel better.” He looked at his cousin. It was no more than wishful thinking on both their parts. Kid was still alive and neither of them had ever shot a woman before. “So what do we do now?” Kid asked again.

“I don’t know. Let’s get you better first.”

***

The men appeared the next day, just before sunset and just over a week after they left Foster Junction. There were four of them and they looked as if they had been on the trail for some time. Their clothes were dirty and it did not look as if the men had washed in a few weeks. When he saw them approach Heyes called James and Kendrick to him. They spoke quietly so as not to worry the others but their wives were too sharp to have missed the approaching strangers and knew that it could mean trouble. James and Kendrick readied their guns just in case they were needed and told the women and children to get into the wagons.

The men rode up to the wagons and pulled their horses to a halt. The leader, a square-faced man with a broken nose spat before he spoke. Not his most endearing quality.

“Howdy folks. Name’s Jordan, Malcolm Jordan and these are my brothers,” he said in a cheery voice. Heyes nodded a greeting. “You folks got any coffee to spare? We been on the trail for a while and we run out a few days ago.”

“We have some,” James said. “Eve get these men a bag of coffee will you,” he called into the wagon. You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife.

“Where you folks headed?” Jordan asked.

“West,” Heyes informed him stepping forward his hand resting on his gun. “How ‘bout you boys? Where you going?”

“Well we’re heading to Foster Junction but we’d like to camp here tonight if you don’t have any problem with that?” It was a leading question. Of course they had a problem with that. They had no idea who these men were and they certainly did not trust them. If they said that, they could be in more trouble, but James and Kendrick had their families to think of.

“We’d rather you set up camp away from our wagons,” James said bravely.

“Now why’s that?” Jordan asked expectantly readying himself for an insult.

“Well we have children here and I don’t imagine you gentlemen keep to their bedtimes.” He smiled at the men and the leader could not take offence at that. He nodded. Heyes was impressed by James’ quick thinking.

“You’re right. We are apt to stay up a little late, ain’t that right boys?” The others laughed.

“We like our fun.” The man at the back said. His name was Billy-Joe and he was Jordan’s youngest brother. Eve, who had appeared to give James the coffee, did not like the way the man looked at her as he said it; his stained and broken teeth doing nothing to enhance his leering smile.

“Come on boys,” Jordan began to pull his horse away. “Let’s leave these folks to their supper. Be seeing you in the morning.” He touched the tip of his hat and the men rode away. Heyes watched them pensively.

They camped within view of the wagons. Their voices and laughter carried in the darkness; their presence hanging like an ominous cloud over the wagon party.

“What do you think?” James asked that evening, as he joined Heyes who was leaning against one of the wagons watching the men’s camp. The dim glow of their fire and the occasional silhouette of a man all that they could see.

“I think we’d better take turns on watch tonight,” Heyes told him the worry clear in his voice. He wished Kid was well. He had a feeling they would be needing his gun before the night was out.

“Do you think they’ll attack us?” James asked as straight to the point as ever.

“I don’t know,” Heyes told him honestly. “It would not surprise me. That’s why we need to be ready. I need to talk to the others. Can you take first watch?”

***

Kid Curry had heard the men arrive and listened to the exchange. Like Heyes he did not like what he heard and felt sure these men were a danger to them.

“Lily,” Kid said and she was soon at his side. “Pass me my gun belt, will you?” She was surprised by the request but did as asked and watched with fascination as Kid Curry expertly checked the chamber of his six-gun before slipping it back into its holster. He struggled to sit up and she helped him. When he was able to kneel, Kid strapped on his gun belt. He was exhausted by just that simple task and was annoyed by his own weakness. Dammit! Heyes was going to need his help, he needed to be stronger.

***

Malcolm Jordan watched the wagons through the evening gloom. Two wagons, three men, two women and a couple of children. It should be no problem for them to take whatever they wanted. They would wait until everyone was asleep and then walk right in for the spoils. At that moment he had no idea that Kid Curry lay in one of the wagons.

They waited until the fire in the camp grew dim and the watch had changed. Then the Jordan brothers crept closer. The tall thin man stood guard. He rubbed his beard and shifted from foot to foot, cold and a little nervous as he looked out into the night. Billy-Joe felled him with one blow to the back of the head with the butt of his rifle.

They moved on. Heyes had stayed awake for as long as he could but finally exhaustion overtook him and he drifted into a light uneasy sleep. Then something roused him. He could not say what but some instinct from his outlaw days told him danger was near. He reached for his gun and then heard the men moving through the camp. Heyes was up and running towards the wagons before he heard Eve scream. Shots were fired into the air but fortunately no one seemed to have been hit.

Kid was startled awake. He looked for Lily but she was not there; she slept beneath the wagon with her parents. He stumbled to the back of the wagon and peered out gun in hand. James was struggling with a man just a few feet away and Heyes was engaged in a fist fight with another. Someone lay unconscious near the fire.

Kid climbed out of the wagon and fell to his knees. He heard a woman scream and ran to where Eve and Lily were struggling with a man. Kid came up behind them and pulled the man away from Eve. The man stumbled but swung around to face Kid Curry. Two swift blows from the blond man sent him to the ground but he was tougher than he looked and he leapt at Kid, fists flying. As Kid struggled with the man he became aware of Eve punching the man with her balled fists. A final blow from Kid knocked the man out and he stood back to stare at Eve in admiration. Eve smiled with satisfaction at a job well done and then her expression changed to one of warning but it was too late. The blow caught Kid across the back of his head and he was unconscious before his knees hit the ground.

***

Heyes staggered backwards from the blow to his jaw but he was still on his feet and he ploughed into the man’s stomach. They both went crashing through the fire knocking charcoal and glowing embers in all directions. With a few well aimed blows Heyes finally had the better of the man and he was soon out cold. Heyes stumbled to his feet and wiped away the blood from his mouth as he surveyed the campsite. The man Heyes had knocked out lay at his feet, Kendrick lay unconscious by the fire with Evangeline and Jethro tending to him, James, his eyes wide with anger and fear for his family, had a man held at wavering gun point and another man lay unconscious beside the Partridge wagon. Eve was trying to rouse the man and it was then Heyes realised it was his partner. He ran to his side. Kid was regaining consciousness as Heyes crouched beside him. He lay face down groaning; groggy but otherwise unharmed. Heyes gently touched Kid’s blond head.

“Look after him,” he said to Eve, relieved Kid’s head was not bleeding, and went to help James. They quickly had Billy-Joe subdued, tied up and, when he started cursing them with words James did not want his family to hear, they gagged him. Heyes found some rope to tie up the man he had knocked out and he had just finished doing so when he heard Eve cry out.

“Lily! Lily’s gone!” she screamed; beside herself with a mother’s fear and panic for her daughter. Eve searched wildly about the camp, desperate for any sign of Lily but she was nowhere to be seen.

There had been four of them. Heyes and James had two tied up and they were in the process of doing so with the one Kid had dealt with. One man was missing. It was Malcolm Jordan and Lily was gone too. James ran for his rifle.

“Wait!” Heyes called catching hold of James’ arm. “You don’t know which way they went. Think first,” he reasoned.

“He has my daughter.” James spat out his anger as Heyes held his arms.

“I know and I’ll help you find him but you need to think clearly. They can’t be too far away.” James saw sense in what Heyes was saying. “Saddle two horses, take one of theirs,” Heyes instructed him and he ran back to the others. Kid was sitting up now holding the back of his head as Heyes approached.

“How you doing?” he asked his younger cousin as he crouched beside him and Kid’s expression told him all he needed to know. “I’m going with James to find her.”

“I’ll catch you up,” Kid told him.

“No, they need you here,” Heyes stated.

“It’s Lily. I’ll catch you up,” Kid repeated and it was clear from the look in his eyes that this was not up for discussion. Naturally stubborn as always.

“Alright,” Heyes relented, there would be no arguing with his partner. “Make sure they’re tied up properly,” Heyes said unnecessarily. Kid knew what to do and the look he gave Heyes told him that.

“You sure you can find them?” Kid asked his hand still resting on the place on his head where the blow had hit him.

“I was a ‘champeen tracker’ remember,” Heyes reminded him.

“Yeah I know ‘in all of Southern Utah’.” Kid looked at him. “Be careful.” No further words were necessary and their goodbyes were said.

***

Dawn was just breaking as James and Heyes set out following the trail of a lone horse which carried Malcolm Jordan and Lily Partridge into the hills. Heyes led the way as they followed the hoof prints through the soft muddy ground. Jordan seemed to be making no attempt to hide his trail. Either he was panicked and careless or he was leading them into a trap.

Heyes knew Kid would follow them. He had that look on his face that challenged anyone to try and stop him but he also knew his partner would not leave the others until he was sure they were safe. As Heyes rode his eyes scanned the trail ahead which was so easy to follow, it made him nervous.

As the trees grew denser and the ground harder it was less easy to follow Jordan’s horse. Every now and then Heyes would pause to examine a broken branch or disturbed earth and all the while he listened to the sounds on the wind and waited for the bullet he would not hear. Heyes was sure they would soon have to continue on foot.

A horse snorted ahead of them and Heyes put up his hand to stop James as he rode behind him. Dismounting, they moved cautiously through the trees. Instructing a reluctant James to wait where he was, Heyes crept slowly forward, his gun in his hand, his eyes ever watchful, his ears alert for any crack of a twig or rustle of leaves that might spell danger.

He found Jordan’s horse limping just a few short yards ahead. The horse had pulled up lame. Heyes watched for a while assessing the likelihood of a trap. A twig snapped behind him and he spun around to come face to face with James. Heyes gave him a look of displeasure.

“Dammit, I might have killed you.” James looked a little sheepish and Heyes understood his eagerness to find his daughter. “He’s close. You have to be quiet and you have to be careful.”

“I will,” James assured him but he was too worried about his daughter to be thinking straight. He pushed past Heyes towards the horse. “Remember he has my daughter,” he said and began to run.

“James!” Heyes called in a loud whisper but there was no stopping the anxious father. Suddenly shots rang out hitting the tree trunks around them. Heyes called out to James to get down but it was too late. One bullet hit him in the leg and he crumpled to the ground, crying out in pain. Heyes made his way cautiously towards him and managed to drag him from the path and out of Jordan’s current line of fire.

“How bad is it?” James asked trying not to cry out again. Heyes tore open his trouser leg and examined the wound. It was bad enough. Without a word he took James’ bandana from around his neck and began tying it around his leg hoping to stop the flow of blood from the bullet wound. He doubted that James would be able to stand unaided.

“That will have to do for now,” Heyes said.

“Leave me,” James told him. “Go on after him, please. Go get my daughter. I’m sorry I messed things up. Please, get Lily.”

“Can you get back to the horses?” Heyes asked and James assured him that he could although neither man knew if that was true. Hannibal Heyes left him and headed in the direction the shots had come from, straight towards Jordan’s gun.

***

Kid was tightening his gun belt when he felt her draw near. He looked up to see Evangeline standing before him. Kid gave her a disdainful look but said nothing.

“Thaddeus, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you so much. I thought you’d just get a stomach upset or something. I didn’t want you to suffer so. I wasn’t trying to kill you I swear it.” She did not know what else to say. Kid looked at her, his face expressionless.

“Lady, I got nothing to say to you.” He walked away leaving her to watch him go off to saddle his horse.

“Ma?” Jethro appeared beside her. “Why’s Thaddeus angry with you?” His mother did not reply.

As Kid adjusted his stirrups Eve approached him.

“Find them please Thaddeus,” she said as she handed him a bag of provisions she had quickly put together. Just in case it took a little longer than they all hoped. “Bring them back to me.”

“I’ll do my best ma’am,” he assured her. Kendrick and his family came towards them. “You gonna be all right with them?” Kid asked indicating the three men tied to the wheels of the wagons.

“I don’t expect any trouble from them,” Kendrick replied confidently holding the rifle in his hand. Kid turned to Jethro and crouched down in front of the boy.

“They need you to be a man now, Jethro,” he told him. “Don’t let those men fool you into letting them go. You’ve got your mamma and Mrs. Partridge to protect.”

“I’ll protect them,” he said bravely. “And Thaddeus, my mamma didn’t mean to hurt you. Please don’t be too angry with her.” Kid was startled by this revelation. He had no idea Jethro knew. He did not know what to say.

“You take care of them.”

“I will sir,” Jethro told him.

***

Kid found the trail easily on the soft ground at the foot of the hills but it became harder to follow as he climbed higher into more rocky, tree-covered terrain. He was beginning to doubt his own abilities to follow them when he heard the shots. Kid urged his horse on faster.

He found James lying wounded, leaning against a tree, two horses tethered nearby. Kid jumped off his horse to check on the man.

“I’m alright,” James assured him as he held his hand over a leg wound roughly bandaged with his own bandana. “Joshua has gone on after them. Go on, leave me please. Go get my girl.” Kid wasted no more time and moved cautiously along the trail through the trees searching for his partner.

Kid finally found Heyes crouched low behind some rocks. Hannibal Heyes spun around and, in the split second before he fired, realised he was facing his partner and fortunately refrained from shooting him.

“Don’t creep up on me like that. I could have shot you!” Heyes chastised him. “What is it with people creeping up on me today?”

“I thought a ‘champeen tracker’ would have heard me coming a mile away,” Kid stated as he lowered himself down next to Heyes. His partner did not dignify that with an answer. “Lily alright?” Kid asked.

“Seems to be.” But Kid was not convinced. Jordan stood cornered in a clearing, backed up against a rocky outcrop. He cowered behind the girl, using Lily as a shield. She looked scared as the man pulled her closer.

“He know you’re up here?” Kid asked.

“He knows. Been taking pot shots at me too,” Heyes stated and he called to the man below. “Mr. Jordan. We only want the girl back. You’re free to go as soon as you release her.”

“You want her. You come and get her,” Jordan called back and he aimed two shots in Heyes’ direction, his aim good enough to cause splinters of rock to hit Heyes’ hat. Kid had been studying the area. He indicated to his partner that he would circle around to get closer. He pointed at Heyes and made a talking sign with his hand. He was expecting his partner to keep him talking. Heyes gave Kid a look.

“It’s what you do best Heyes,” Kid whispered as he slid back into the trees. “I need one shot.”

“Mr. Jordan,” Heyes called as Kid crept away. “Perhaps we can come to some arrangement. Lily’s folks are awfully worried about her; your brothers are free to go too. There’s no real harm done. Please just let her go.”

“If I let her go, you’ll shoot me for sure,” Jordan stated. “I know it and so do you.”

“Not at all sir. We’re God fearing people. We believe in turning the other cheek. Please, I think you’re scaring Lily.”

“You ain’t frightened of me are you girl?” Jordan asked Lily as he pulled her face close to his. The terrified girl shook her head. “See, she ain’t scared.” He called back.

“Well then, what do you want Mr. Jordan?” Heyes asked.

“I want fresh horses for me and my brothers for a start. And I want whatever money you folks got.”

“Well we don’t have much but you’d be welcome to it,” Heyes lied as he kept the man talking. He hoped Kid would be in position soon. As if reading his mind he heard his partner’s voice.

“Lily!” Kid called and he was much closer than Heyes. Jordan whirled around trying to see where this other man was; searching the trees for any sign of movement. He pressed himself against the rock. “Lily, do you remember the rattlesnake? Remember what you had to do?” Kid asked her.

“Who are you?” Jordan called out. “What are you talking about a snake for?” Lily’s mind raced back to a few days ago. What had she been asked to do? Stand still. Her father had asked her to stand still.

“Remember what I asked you to do?” Kid asked her.

Thaddeus had asked her to close her eyes……..and then she knew what he was going to do. Lily’s face was suddenly full of fear and she stiffened in Jordan’s arms.

“What you saying mister? What you trying to get this little gal to do?” Jordan asked holding Lily tighter.

“Trust me Lily,” Kid said and Lily stopped moving and closed her eyes.

There was a single shot, a scream and Jordan let go of Lily and fell backwards, clutching his shoulder. Heyes and Kid ran from their cover. Kid reached them first and Lily flew into his arms. The blond man put himself between Lily and Jordan, his gun still pointed at the wounded man. When Heyes reached them he picked up Jordan’s gun from where it had fallen. Kid turned his attention to Lily.

“Are you alright?” he asked. She nodded, still a little in shock and then buried her head in Kid’s chest hugging him as if her life depended on it.

“One shot huh?” Heyes said smiling at Kid proud of his cousin’s shooting. Kid looked at him over Lily’s blonde head. “You’re her hero for sure Kid.”

They collected James on the way back along the trail. He was overjoyed to see his daughter safe and sound and Lily was equally pleased to see her father although she was worried by the amount of blood he appeared to be losing, from his leg wound. With two injured men to tend to, their progress back to the wagons was a lot slower than when they had ridden out but they still reached the camp before noon. How could so much happen before lunchtime, Heyes wondered, as they saw Eve racing towards them, joyful at seeing her daughter and husband returned to her.

***

The tired and dusty wagon party reached Lemon Creek two days later. The town’s sheriff, Archibald Mullen, not known to either of the two ex-outlaws, had never had more than two men in his jail at one time. To have four arrive with the wagons sent him into a fluster. It was almost more than the man could cope with but the wagon party were pleased to be rid of the Jordan brothers and to see them safely under lock and key. They found the doctor for James, who was impressed by Eve’s tending of his wound and offered her a job on the spot as his nursing assistant. Eve said she would think about it. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry headed to the hotel for a cold beer, a hot bath and a soft bed, in that order.

A couple of days later, it was time to say goodbye. William Partridge had arrived in town and would be leading his brother’s family back to the farm when he left and taking the Dawsons with them.

“I wish you did not have to leave, Thaddeus.” Lily eyes were moist with developing tears as they stood beside the wagons as they were ready to pull out. Lily was the last to say goodbye to them having hung back, hoping to make their moments together last longer, whilst putting off the inevitable farewells. “Will I ever see you again?” she asked.

“I sure hope so Lily,” Kid told her and she hugged him so hard she almost squeezed the breath out of him. Who knew what life would throw at Lily Partridge? All she knew was that Thaddeus Jones would always be her hero.

THE END

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One thought on “Poison Angel

  1. I was thinking about this story the other day and wondering (sorry) who wrote it and where it was. I started rereading stories that I had read several years ago and found it today. I really enjoyed reading it all over again. Kid sure does have a way with the ladies, even very young ones.

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