All That Glitters…
Hannibal Heyes struck a match and watched as its tiny flame flickered and died. Muttering under his breath he struck another match. It burst into life…and died a similar death. A relentless drizzle fell from the sky dampening the kindling he had optimistically piled in front of him.
As water dripped off his hat, Heyes looked up to stare at his partner’s back. Kid Curry crouched beside the river bank filing their canteens in the flowing water. Heyes hated to admit it but Kid had been right. They should have found somewhere under cover. The clouds had not blown over as he predicted and they were probably going to be soaked to the skin before the night was out. Kid hadn’t said more than two words since the rain began. His friend’s silence made Heyes’ annoyance at himself harder to bear. If only Kid would yell at him; tell him he’d been wrong. Then they could have an argument and he could vent some of his anger on Kid, but his partner had been stubbornly quiet which annoyed Heyes even more.
The sound of Kid’s voice startled him. “What?” he asked a little more brusquely than he should have.
Slowly Kid Curry turned to face his friend. A small torrent of water cascaded off his hat as he did so. He did not look angry, he looked perplexed or perhaps stunned… Heyes waited to see what his friend would say. Maybe they were going to have an argument after all. Instead Kid held out something between the thumb and first finger of his right hand. It was a little smaller in diameter than a poker chip. “Is this what I think it is?”
Heyes squinted to focus on the object. Kid turned it in his grasp revealing a golden hew. Heyes’ eyes widened.
Kid smiled as he asked, “Is it?”
Heyes got swiftly to his feet and crossed the gap between them. He took the stone to examine it.
“Well?” Kid prompted hopefully, as the rain continued to fall.
“It is, isn’t it?” his friend smiled.
Hannibal Heyes nodded; a broad grin on his face. “Yes, Kid it is.” He looked directly at his friend. “It’s gold!”
“You’re sure?” Kid asked for the third time.
“Yes,” Heyes assured him.
“We’re rich.” Kid sat back on his heels and beamed, seemingly unaware that they were both now soaking wet from the continual rain.
Heyes smiled, the fire forgotten too, as he turned the lump of gold over and over in his hand. “Yeah, we are.”
“How much d’you think it’s worth?”
Kid turned to face the river, now peppered by the rain. “What if there’s more? I mean there has to be right?”
Heyes joined him at the water’s edge and looked at the gravel bed. “Maybe.” He handed the nugget back to Kid.
“Heyes, this could be our ticket to South America. I think our luck’s finally changed.”
Which is when the shot rang out.
Kid jerked backwards.
The nugget fell from his hand into the dirt.
Heyes’ hand dropped to his Schofield.
And a voice called out, “You draw that and I’ll kill me another claim jumper!”
Heyes froze. His eyes scanned the tree line but nothing moved. He shot a quick glance at his partner. Kid lay on his back, unmoving, his left hand in the water.
“Kid?” Heyes called quietly out of the corner of his mouth but there was no response. He could not tell where his friend had been hit but the fact that he was not moving didn’t bode well.
The sound of snapping twigs caught Heyes’ attention and he looked up to see a tall bearded man, dressed in well-worn and very damp deer hide, approaching. Heyes studied the rifle the man carried as his mind raced for a way out of this one.
“Unbuckle your gun belt, slowly, then throw it to me,” the man ordered.
“Let me see to my friend.”
“Gun belt, now.” The rifle rose, the barrel level with Heyes’ face.
Heyes decided it was best to comply and undid the buckle at his waist. “We’re not claim jumpers. We didn’t even know this was a claim.”
The man remained silent as Heyes untied the string around his right thigh.
“If you have any signs up, we certainly didn’t see them.”
“Folk ‘round here know.”
“And yet here we are…not knowing.”
Heyes threw it towards the man who bent down, picked it up and threw it casually over his shoulder.
Heyes met the man’s gaze hoping to find…something. “We have no intention of jumping anyone’s claim. Just let me see to my partner and as soon as he’s able we’ll be on our way.”
“Can’t do that.”
The man moved closer and, keeping his eyes on Heyes, bent down to pick up the fallen nugget. “I caught you with my gold.” The man looked at the nugget and smiled. “Biggest piece I’ve found. Only one penalty ‘round here for claim jumpers.”
Heyes found himself looking down the barrel of the rifle once more.
The rain finally stopped but Hannibal Heyes hardly noticed it as he faced the man with the rifle.
“With your left hand, remove his gun and toss it to me,” the man ordered and Heyes did as asked. When the man picked up Kid’s Colt he stuffed it into the waistband of his pants. “All right, now you can see to him.”
Heyes scrambled to his friend’s side. “Thaddeus?”
Heyes quickly scanned Kid’s clothes. No blood stains, no obvious bullet wounds. Kid’s hat lay at an angle on his head and Heyes carefully removed it. No blood on it. Except…gently, Heyes turned Kid’s head to one side.
Heyes’ shoulders dropped as his jaw tightened.
The hair above Kid’s left ear was wet with blood. A thin, bloody line carved a path from his temple into the hairline and washed a red stream down his face. Heyes removed his bandana and carefully pressed it against the wound. Kid didn’t move. Heyes leaned towards the river and dipped the bandana in the water then carefully wiped away the blood so he could see just how deep the bullet had grazed his friend.
“He dead?” the man asked from somewhere behind him.
The man kicked at the fire Heyes had been attempting to light. “Did you actually expect this thing to catch light?”
Heyes looked over his shoulder to see what had the man’s attention. “I’m an optimist.”
The man chuckled. “More like an idiot. Why didn’t ya take cover? Get outta the rain?”
“My friend suggested that. Maybe we would have…if you hadn’t shot him.” Heyes met the other man’s stare. Neither looked away until, finally, the man scoffed and continued looking around their campsite.
As Heyes tended to his friend the man kicked over their bed rolls, turned out their saddlebags and pocketed the box of bullets he found. Then he picked up a can and studied it. “This all you got? Where’s ya food?”
Heyes looked over his shoulder. “What?”
“Your food. Where is it?”
“We don’t have any.” Heyes sat back on his heels as he considered Kid’s predicament.
“What were you gonna eat? Just these peaches?” He waved the can at Heyes.
“We were hoping my friend would catch a fish,” Heyes remarked flippantly.
“Ha! You serious?”
“Told you I was an optimist. That’s what he was doing in the river.” Heyes looked their possessions scattered in the wet dirt. “I hope you noticed a lack of claim jumping equipment in our bags? No pans. No shovels. No scales to weigh the stolen gold on.”
“Occurred to me,” the man acknowledged. “Maybe I was a might…hasty.”
“HASTY?” His lack of a weapon forgotten, Heyes was swiftly on his feet. “You shot him in the head!” Heyes pointed an angry finger at Kid’s prone body. “You think that was hasty?”
The rifle rose slowly to point at Heyes’ chest.
“Watch yourself, son or I might make another hasty decision.”
Heyes bit back a reply and took a deep breath. He squared his shoulders before he spoke. “I need to get him away from the river.”
The men held each other’s gaze.
Eventually the other man nodded his head. “Would be a good idea.”
Heyes sighed. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d help me move him?”
“You don’t suppose right.”
Gritting his teeth as he bit back a comment Heyes caught hold of Kid’s wrists. Slowly, he turned his friend from the river then dragged him a few feet away from the water’s edge taking care not to hit his head on any rocks. Heyes let Kid’s arms down gently when he’d found a suitable place to stop. Kneeling beside his friend he checked the head wound. Still bleeding but less so.
“There were some bandages in my saddle bags,” Heyes informed the man. “Assuming you haven’t stolen those as well as our bullets.”
The gold miner reached down and searched through the pile of clothes he’d tossed unceremoniously on the ground. When he found what he was looking for he threw a rolled up bandage in Heyes’ direction. Heyes caught it in one hand then returned his attention to his friend. Making a pad out of the now blood-soaked bandana he secured it to Kid’s head with the roll of bandage, tying a knot in the end when he’d finished.
“What happens now?” he asked, sitting back on his heels as he did so.
The other man raised a questioning brow.
“I’m hoping, being an optimist an’ all, that the fact you haven’t killed us means you don’t intend to,” Heyes continued. “I’m also hoping, still being an optimist you understand, that having realised my partner and I had no intention of jumping your claim, you might see fit to let us go.”
“That’s a lot of hopin’ you’re doin’.”
“Any of it right?”
The man sat down on a fallen tree stump and removed Kid’s Colt from his waistband. He studied it, turning it over in his hand a time or two before holding it in a firm grip and aiming it at a distant tree. “Nice balance.”
Heyes did not comment.
“The sort you build in.”
Still Heyes kept his counsel.
“A man would have to know a Colt real well to give it this sort of balance.” He looked directly at Heyes, then at Kid.
Heyes smiled. “My friend couldn’t hit a barn door if you stood him in front of it. He won that gun in a poker game.”
Heyes just smiled.
“What about you?”
“Oh, I’m real good at poker,” Heyes informed him proudly.
“They scare the life outta me. I only carry one ‘cos I have to. Protection from bears. That sort of thing.”
“That why you wear yours tied down?”
Heyes smiled. “Well, some of those bears sneak up on you real fast.”
The man chuckled. “That they do.” He returned the Colt to his waistband. “What’s your name?”
“And your friend?”
“Smith and Jones?” the man asked sceptically.
“Lot of people named Smith and Jones,” Heyes reminded him.
“I guess there are.” He thought for a moment, then asked. “What are you doing out here?”
“We’re on our way to Porterville.”
The man looked surprised. “You takin’ the long way?”
“There was a landslide. It closed a pass we were going to take, so yes, we’re taking the long way ‘round.”
“What’s your business in Porterville?”
“Visiting a friend.”
“I know a few folks in Porterville. Who is it?”
“Lom Trevors.” Heyes eyes darkened and he met the man’s own. “Know him?”
The man’s face clouded over. Clearly he knew who Lom was.
Heyes continued, “I’m not sure how he’ll feel when he learns you shot his friend. Ol’ Lom’s got a temper on him and he’s pretty stubborn. He once chased a man for weeks to bring him to justice. Of course the victim in that instance wasn’t a personal friend of his.” He met the man’s gaze, feeling that at last he just might have the upper hand. Heyes smiled, innocently. “There’s no telling how he’ll react when he sees Thaddeus. And Lom knew we were on our way. Knew we had to take a different route ‘cos of the landslide. So if we don’t show up it wouldn’t take him long to figure out which way we came. This being your claim and folks ‘round here knowing that, like you said. I’m sure he’d want to speak to you. Ask you a few questions. Find out if you’d seen us.”
The man listened but remained silent.
“One thing about ol’ Lom, he’s real good at telling when someone is lying. Got a sort of a sixth sense. Sometimes he can just look in your eyes and know you’re not telling the truth. I’d never play poker with him.” Heyes smiled. “Good ol’ Lom.”
“You spin a good tale.”
“You sure that’s what it is?” Heyes asked which was when Kid groaned and Heyes was swiftly at his side. “Thaddeus?”
“Open your eyes.”
“Ahhhhh.” Kid’s legs moved. His eyelids fluttered.
“Come on Thaddeus, wake up,” Heyes encouraged.
“Repetitive, ain’t he?” the man observed and Heyes shot a glare in his direction.
Kid’s eyelids fluttered. His eyes opened, then closed. They opened again. He looked at Heyes. “Ahhhh.” His eyes closed.
“I know your head hurts, Thaddeus but you gotta open your eyes.”
Finally two blue eyes looked up at Heyes.
“Welcome back,” Heyes said with a smile.
Kid concentrated hard to focus, a task he seemed to be having trouble with. “Hey…”
“…Hey yourself,” his friend quickly finished for him.
“You were shot.”
Kid frowned, then grimaced as the process clearly caused him pain. “How…long…?”
“You’ve been unconscious for a few minutes,” Heyes informed him. “The man that shot you s’right over there.” He leaned his head to the left indicating the direction. “Best watch yourself.”
Kid absorbed the information as best a man just shot in the head could. “Ahhhh,” he said and passed out.
The man who shot Kid Curry rested his elbows on his knees.
“How much have you found on this claim?” Heyes asked as he sat with his back against a boulder, his eyes occasionally checking on his friend’s prone form.
“Including what he found?” the man asked.
“How much would you say this weighed?” The man held up the nugget. “Couple of ounces?”
“In that case I’d say I’d probably got me…oh….I’d say….a couple of ounces.”
Heyes mouth opened slightly in surprise. “Are you telling me that’s the first gold you’ve found?”
“Yes, ‘cept I never found this either, did I?” the man chuckled.
Heyes bit back the words he wanted to say, folded his arms across his body and waited for his friend to regain consciousness.
The sun was lower in the sky; Heyes was still sitting with his back against the boulder and the man had a fire going with the partners’ coffee pot resting in the embers to brew. He opened a can with a knife and prised off the top. He used his knife to stuff a slice of peach into his mouth, wiping away the juice that flowed down his chin with his shirt sleeve.
“Did you leave anything for us?” Heyes asked, his eyes on the rifle that never left the man’s side.
“There’s some jerky.”
“Great.” Heyes’ lack of enthusiasm made the man smile.
“You’re not dead. You should be grateful.”
“I’ll keep reminding myself of that.”
“You do that.”
“Do you have a name?” Heyes asked, looking directly at the man.
“Feel like sharing it with me?”
“Why? You gonna write me a letter?”
“Makes conversation easier,” Heyes explained. “And you know ours.”
“You seem to have managed fine up till now, not knowing.”
Heyes smiled. “Humour me.”
The man swallowed another peach segment as he considered the request. “Doddwell. Francis Doddwell but everyone I know calls me Dodds.”
“Well, Dodds, what do plan to do with us?”
“I’ve been thinking on that.”
“D’you come up with an answer?”
Dodds reached into a pocket and pulled out the gold nugget. “D’you know the Latin name for gold is aurum?” he asked, seeming to have ignored Heyes’ question. Heyes in turn let the man continue unchallenged. “Means ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora’, something like that. I read somewhere it was ‘cos when it was discovered someone thought it glowed like the dawn. Kinda poetic don’t ya think?” Dodds held the nugget out so it caught the light of the fire, at which point it did indeed seem to glow. “Our ancestors must have thought they’d discovered a piece of the sun, what d’you think?”
“I guess they might, not having being as educated as us,” Heyes agreed and then added, “Or as civilised.” Dodds looked up at him and Heyes elucidated. “Civilised enough to give a man the benefit of making an honest mistake.”
Dodds smiled. “Not sure I’m that civilised.”
And then Kid groaned.
Heyes moved towards his friend. The man, Dodds, watched his every move.
Kid’s eyes opened. He groaned again, rolled onto his left side and threw up. Heyes sat back on his heels and waited for Kid to compose himself. When his friend rolled onto his back, wiping a hand across his mouth, he deemed it safe to approach.
“How you doing?” Heyes asked.
“What happened to me?” Kid asked, right arm flung across his eyes.
“You were shot.”
“That’s cos that’s where you were shot.”
“S’plains it.” Kid raised his arm and looked at Heyes. “Who?”
“The man sitting about ten feet from you,” Heyes stated calmly.
Kid’s hand instantly dropped to his side but came up empty.
“He took your gun. Has mine too,” Heyes informed him helpfully, as Kid narrowed his eyes and looked at the man sitting eating peaches. The man raised his knife in greeting and smiled. This confused Kid.
“Why’d he shoot me?” the blond man asked, a pained expression on his face.
“Thought we were claim jumpers.”
Kid looked at Heyes. “Are we?”
“S’good.” Kid lay back exhausted and covered his eyes once more. “Wos he doin’ now?”
“Eating our peaches.”
“Oh.” Kid let out a long breath. “What you doin’?”
“Trying to figure a way out of this.”
The man with the peaches chuckled.
“We in trouble?”
“I’m not sure.”
Confused blue eyes fixed on Heyes. “Huh?”
“I’m not sure what he plans to do with us.”
“You ask him?”
“I just did.”
“What he say?”
“Your groaning interrupted us.”
“Sorry,” Kid apologised then added, “Jus’ let me know if you want me to shoot him.”
Heyes smiled. “I will. Just try and stay awake this time.” Heyes turned to Dodds. “So, what are you planning to do with us?”
“Well, I reckon you ain’t claim jumpers.”
“I told you we weren’t.”
“Didn’t expect me to just believe ya, did you?” Dodds met Heyes’ gaze.
“I guess not.” Heyes cast a glance at Kid, checking his progress. “So, what now?”
“If I let you go, what’s to stop you coming back to kill me?”
“I told you we’re heading to Porterville.”
“Don’t mean you won’t try to shoot me first chance you get.”
“What if I gave you my word?” Heyes offered.
“No offence but, not knowing you, it don’t mean much to me.”
“What if you rode with us into Porterville?”
The man raised an eyebrow.
“I could use your help with my friend,” Heyes informed him.
“I can take care of myself,” Kid Curry stated unconvincingly from where he lay on his back, arm over his eyes.
“I suppose you’d expect me to ride in front, so you could shoot me in the back?”
“You have our weapons,” Heyes reminded him.
“I figured you want them back, or try to take them.” Dodds watched the dark-haired man for a reaction.
“You really are an untrusting soul, aren’t you?” Heyes observed.
“Had reason to be.” He tossed the nugget in the air and caught it again. “Folks keep trying to steal my gold.”
“You didn’t have any ‘til we came along.”
“Maybe so but a man gets used to watching his back.”
“Don’t we know it,” Kid mumbled and Dodds curiosity piqued.
“What’s he on about?”
“We’ve had experience of a few posses.”
Dodds’ eyes narrowed. “You the law, like Trevors?”
Heyes smiled. “Let’s just say the Governor knows our names.”
Dodds’ brow furrowed. “You work for the Governor of Wyoming?”
Kid scoffed. “We have to do what he tells us,” he slurred.
“So, will you help me?” Heyes asked.
“I’m not returning your weapons,” Dodds assured him and Heyes held his gaze. “Least not till we get to Porterville.”
“I just want to get him to a doctor,” Heyes insisted.
“I’m fine,” Kid stated and pulled himself up and onto his hands and knees. He stayed there staring at the dirt.
Heyes and Dodds watched him. Kid did not move.
“You okay?” Heyes asked.
“No.” Kid took a few deep breaths. “I think I’m gonna throw up again.”
“Terrific.” Dodds got to his feet and kicked dirt into the fire extinguishing the flames.
Heyes moved to Kid’s side. “Think you can sit a horse?”
“Sit, yeah. Ride. No idea.”
Heyes nodded “Okay.” He turned back to Dodds. “So…”
“Hmmm,” was Dodds’ cryptic reply. He waved a hand at their belongings scattered on the ground. “You want any of this, best pack it up.”
Heyes gave him a look. “Kind of ya.”
“I thought so.”
Heyes turned back to face Kid. “You gonna be okay?”
“Only place to go’s the ground. I’ll be fine.”
Heyes took a final look to reassure himself his friend was telling the truth then picked up his favourite dark blue shirt and stuffed it into his saddle bags. Over the next few minutes, socks, underwear and other items of clothing were stuffed into the saddle bags. Dodds shook his head in wonder that somehow it all fit. When he was finished Heyes headed to where the horses were tied to a nearby tree.
“Hold up there, son,” Dodds ordered as he raised his rifle.
“I’m just gonna saddle the horses,” Heyes informed him.
“Make sure that’s all you do.”
The older man’s eyes watched intently as Heyes picked up a blanket and threw it over the back of his partner’s roan. Then he bent down and grabbed hold of Kid’s saddle. As Dodds kept an eye on the dark-haired man, Kid eased his way to the nearest tree, where he rested a hand on the trunk, steadying himself. He breathed heavily with the effort of remaining upright and conscious. Kid fought off the waves of nausea that swept over him.
“You enjoy watching another man work?” Heyes asked.
Dodds chuckled. “Have to admit I do.”
“You plan on riding with us at all?”
“I don’t see your horse.”
“You’re saddlin’ it.”
Heyes stopped tightening the cinch and turned around. “You expect us to ride double?”
“Nope. One of you could walk.”
Dark eyes narrowed but Heyes kept quiet. Dodds chuckled as Heyes pulled the cinch tighter.
“You might want to adjust the stirrups while you’re there,” the gold-miner suggested. “I reckon my legs are a mite longer than you fellas.”
“You wouldn’t want to do that yourself?” Heyes asked. “Make sure you’ve got it just right.”
“Oh, I reckon you’ll do a good enough job.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me,” Heyes informed him sarcastically.
Heyes turned from the horse and smiled.
“My hand’s a little shaky, so I’d suggest no sudden moves,” Kid stated.
“Not the most sensible thing to do,” Heyes told Dodds as he walked towards the miner. “Leaving my gun lying there, tempting my partner like that.”
Dodds scowled and looked over his shoulder at Kid Curry. “I s’pose you’re gonna shoot me now?”
“Only if you give me another reason.”
Heyes removed Kid’s Colt from Dodds’ waistband then smiled as he took the rifle from the man’s hand. “My partner can be pretty sneaky at times.” Heyes flipped the Colt’s chamber checking it was loaded before taking a step back and aiming the gun at the miner.
Kid Curry sank to his knees and dry heaved.
“Do you have to keep doing that?” Heyes asked.
“Yes,” was his friend’s rasping reply.
Heyes looked at Dodds. “Now, I have a quandary. What do we do with you?” Dodds kept quiet. “We could tie you up; throw you over the back of a horse and take you into Porterville, then hand you over to Sheriff Trevors for shooting my friend. The problem with that is we’d still have to ride double.”
“You could…” Dodds began but Heyes silenced him with a raised hand.
“I could shoot you, right here, right now and tell Lom it was self-defence! You shot my partner, I shot you. Except we’d probably have to take your body in just to prove it and that would mean one of us riding with a dead man.”
“Not me,” Kid said. “We could just leave his body for the bears.”
“We could,” Heyes agreed and Dodds eyes opened wider with concern. “Or shoot him and just not tell anyone.”
“Out here anythin’ coulda happened to him,” Kid remarked.
Heyes nodded his agreement.
“Fellas I…” Dodds pleaded.
“Or we could let him live.”
Dodds grabbed the glimmer of hope with both proverbial hands. “You could. I’d not do anything if you did.”
“He’d probably follow us,” Kid mused. “Shoot us in the back if he could.”
“I wouldn’t. I swear. You have my rifle.” Dodds looked from one man to the next. “I don’t have another gun. Or a horse. How could I follow you?”
“Hmmm,” Heyes pondered. “That’s true.”
“You’ve got more reason to hunt me down that I have you,” the older man added.
“Joshua.” There was something in the way Kid said his name that made Heyes look at him with concern. Two weary blue eyes met his. “There is a way we can guarantee he won’t follow us.”
The partner’s held each other’s gaze while neither said a word.
Heyes nodded and turned to face Dodds. He held out his hand. “Give me the nugget.”
Reluctantly Dodds reached into his pocket and then opened his left hand. The yellow chunk of gold lay in his palm. Heyes took it. He looked at Kid.
Kid gave a slow nod.
Heyes turned towards the river, drew his arm back and then let the nugget fly. Dodds watched in open-mouthed disbelief. The gold caught the light as it carved an arc in the sky before disappearing with a resounding PLOP in the middle of the river.
“That has to be the stupidest thing I ever did,” Heyes stated as he rode beside Kid down the hillside. The distant roof tops of Porterville could be seen through the branches of the trees. “I cannot believe I just threw away gold. Do you know how much that nugget was worth?” Heyes continued before Kid had a chance to answer. “Enough to get us to South America. Probably, enough to let us wait out the year until the Governor figures we deserve amnesty. Probably, enough to give us a fresh start when he does. Or doesn’t! And why did I do it? So we don’t have to look over our shoulders in case one man, ONE MAN, is following us. Huh! There is always someone following us. We are ALWAYS looking over our shoulders.”
Kid Curry, riding now behind his partner as they moved through a narrow gap in the trees, said nothing. His head hurt, his vision was a little blurry and all he wanted to do was sleep but at that moment all he could do was hang onto the saddle horn and hope he didn’t fall off his horse. He was grateful that Porterville was getting closer. If he had to put up with Heyes moaning on and on about the darn gold then so be it.
“I cannot believe I threw gold into the river. I cannot believe you suggested it. Oh, not in so many words, but with that look you do when….” A shocked expression appeared on Heyes’ face as something suddenly occurred to him. “I listened to you!” Heyes shook his head. “Now THAT has to be the stupidest thing I ever did!”