Avalanche

The Avalanche

By Maz McCoy

“I do not cheat!” Heyes called over his shoulder, as they rode along the mountain track.

“I didn’t say you cheated,” Kid reminded him, as he pulled his collar up, to keep in some of his body’s warmth. “I just said you were real lucky.”

“The implication being that I was too lucky. That I cheated,” Heyes remarked, turning up the collar of his own jacket.

“No. I don’t think you cheat.” Kid pulled on the reins to stop his horse from going too near the edge of the track; too near the precipitous drop. Snow lay on the ground all around them and covered the branches of the trees. Kid would be glad when they descended to a warmer altitude. “However…”

“Oh, there’s a however, huh?” Heyes twisted round in the saddle to shoot a look at his friend.

“However,” Kid continued, not to be deterred. “It sure was lucky that you won the coin toss four times in a row.”

“That’s all it was Kid, luck,” Heyes assured his partner, as he ducked under a snow laden branch. It was cold but it was pretty.

“Yeah, luck that you got the bed in the hotel, luck that you got to have the meal in the café while all I got was a beer in the saloon, luck that you got…”

A sudden rumble caught their ears. Two heads looked up, searching for the source of the sound. Their eyes opening wider, as a wall of snow headed towards them.

“Avalanche!” each man yelled, unnecessarily.

“Get back! Get back!” Heyes cried, frantically, pulling on the reins. He turned his horse and headed back the way they had come, urging it on and riding as if his life depended on it, which was just as well because at that moment, it did. Kid’s horse reared. The thunder of the advancing snow terrified the animal. Eyes wide, nostrils flaring, it danced and snorted as Kid, grim faced, tried to regain control. Eventually Kid managed to turn his horse and rode after his partner, as the wall of snow threatened to engulf them.

Heyes was into the trees and safety, beyond the path of the avalanche, when the snow finally hit the trail. It swallowed up all in its way. He turned back searching, desperately, for a sign of his friend. Nothing. A deafening roar drowned out everything around him. There was still no sign of Kid. Then, to his relief, a familiar horse came galloping around the bend, heading towards him. Heyes’ relief was short lived when he realised it was minus its rider.

Heyes reached out and caught hold of the reins. The animal was clearly terrified. Heyes headed back to where he had last seen his friend. As he expected, a wall of snow blocked the trail. Dismounting, Heyes tied the horses to a tree, scrambled up onto the snow bank and looked around. There was no sign of his partner. Fear gripped him. He wouldn’t let his mind imagine what might have happened to his friend.

“KID!” he called. “KID!” His voice echoed through the trees and around the walls of the valley. Heyes’ cries grew more frantic. He sank up to his knees in the powdery snow and struggled on, his eyes scanning the empty whiteness, serene in its deadly beauty. Then Heyes saw something several feet below him. He jumped and slid down the slope, creating a mini avalanche of his own, as he headed towards a clump of trees. When he reached them, he caught hold of a trunk to stop himself sliding further, and stooping down picked up the familiar brown hat. Heyes looked, despairingly, around. His heart almost missed a beat when his eyes fell on a figure sprawled, face down, in the snow. Heyes set off again, slipping and sliding, in his desperate bid to reach his friend. He fell and rolled, his clothes soon covered in a dusting of crushed snow.

“Kid?” Heyes dropped to his knees, when he reached his friend. “Kid?” Heyes placed a gloved hand gently on the blond man’s head. There was a gash on Kid’s right temple; the snow beneath stained red.

A groan emitted from his partner and two blue eyes slowly opened.

“Easy,” Heyes cautioned, as his friend turned his head and tried to focus.

“Heyes? What hit me?”

“About half a mountain of snow,” Heyes said with a smile.

Kid tried to sit up and then cried out in pain. His hand shot to his ribs, as he lay back down. Another drop of blood hit the snow.

“Don’t be in such a rush.”

“I can’t stay here.” Kid clutched his side, his breathing painful and shallow.

“I know, but you don’t have to run up the hill just yet. Give it, oh two more minutes.” He smiled and Kid smiled back and then his face contorted with pain. “What hurts?”

“My head. My ribs.” Kid sat up slowly, still holding his side. The world swam around him. “I don’t feel so good,” he admitted.

Heyes pulled off his bandana and began to fold it into a dressing. Then, leaning forward, he removed Kid’s from around his neck. He placed his own bandana over the head wound and then tied it in place, with his partner’s. Two blue eyes sent Heyes a thank you.

The dark-haired man sat back on his heels, thinking. There was a sudden rumble above them and another small cascade of snow headed their way. Heyes leaned over, ready to shield his partner with his body. Fortunately, the mini avalanche passed them by. Kid pulled himself up again and looked at his friend.

“We gotta get outta here. Help me up, huh?”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. It’s not safe.”

Heyes helped Kid to his feet, placing a steadying hand on his arm, as the blond man swayed. Heyes handed Kid his hat, which he placed carefully on his head, resting it just above the bandages.

“You ready?” the dark-haired man asked. Kid nodded, instantly regretting the movement.

Slowly they made their way up the hillside. Heyes looked behind them and saw blood spots in the snow. Half way up, Kid sank to his knees, breathing heavily, holding his side. Heyes saw his friend grimace, but there was little he could do to help. After catching his breath, Kid took the hand his partner offered him, pulled himself to his feet and struggled on. When they finally reached the trail, Kid sat down hard in the snow, breathing heavily, while Heyes went to get the horses. From somewhere in the trees, a sudden distant howl echoed through the stillness. The howl came again, and then another appeared to answer it. Wolves. Kid turned as Heyes brought the horses closer.

“D’you think they can smell the blood?” Kid asked, as his friend helped him to his feet.

“Nah,” Heyes lied. “They’re probably miles away. Sound travels up here, you know that.” He could see from his friend’s expression that Kid didn’t believe him. He helped Kid onto his horse, and then climbed onto his own. They headed back the way they had come. Keeping an eye on his partner, Heyes hoped they’d reach, the aptly named, town of Winter, before dark.

They had not been riding long when the horses grew skittish. A howl rang through the trees and the horses, danced and whinnied once more. Kid clung on tight to the reins, but he was feeling dizzy and struggled to control his mount.

Heyes saw a flash of a lone grey shape running through the trees. It dashed across their path, some way ahead. Another was keeping pace with them on the other side of the trail. Turning in the saddle Heyes looked back and saw several other shapes, he assumed were the rest of the pack, following them. They were being hunted. He counted six animals in all, but there could be more. He shot a look at his partner, just as Kid looked up at him.

The blond man slowly drew his gun. In his present state, Heyes wasn’t sure what Kid would be able to hit, but an injured Kid Curry was still a much better shot than most men.

“Aim to scare them,” Kid said. “We don’t want wounded animals hunting us down.” Heyes nodded his agreement. Hopefully a few well-aimed shots would frighten the pack off, making them search for less dangerous prey. Kid pulled his horse to a halt and fired off a shot, hitting the ground close to the nose of the wolf to his right. They heard a yelp, as the bullet threw up dirt. Heyes took aim, hitting a tree trunk close to the grey figure on his side. There was howl and the animal retreated. The men let fly with several more shots, aiming once more near the animal on either side of them and then at those pursuing them from behind. As Kid reloaded his gun, Heyes scanned the trees, watching and waiting. The pack appeared to have disappeared. Kid held his Colt poised, as Heyes took his turn to reload. Still there was no sign of the predators. Heyes breathed a sigh of relief and, smiling, looked over at his partner. His smile instantly disappeared.

Kid was collapsed over the neck of his horse, his right hand hanging down, still gripping hold of his gun. Heyes quickly pulled his horse alongside.

“Kid?”

The blond man raised his head slightly.

“I gotta get down.” His face was pale and he looked nauseous.

“Kid we need to keep moving,” Heyes told him. “We hafta get to town before dark.” His eyes scanned his friend’s face, hoping for some sign that Kid understood and would find the strength to pull himself up in the saddle.

“I hafta get down.” Kid slipped from the saddle. He fell to his knees and vomited. Dismounting, Heyes stood beside his friend, watching the trees for any sign of the wolves return. Kid retched again, holding his aching side as he did so. Hannibal Heyes ran through the possibilities available to them. Maybe after a few moments Kid would be able to get back on his horse and they could set off for Winter. He looked at the man on his knees, holding his ribs, his head hung low. Then again, maybe not. All right, so they probably wouldn’t make it to town before dark. They would need to find shelter. He didn’t remember seeing any cabins or…

“You fellas all right?” a voice asked and Heyes spun round, gun in hand, frantically searching the trees. “No need to shoot, I ain’t gonna hurt ya!” the man said. “I come in peace,” he added with a smile, as he stepped out from behind a tall pine. He was a large man, clad in an old brown bear skin coat. He carried a rifle and had a couple of dead rabbits tied at his waist. A bushy grey beard and a mop of unruly grey hair, hid most of his face.

“Howdy,” the man said, as he approached them.

“Howdy,” Heyes replied, cautiously. He did not lower his gun and his eyes narrowed, as he studied the man.

“I guess that was you two shootin’ at the wolves,” the large man said, conversationally.

“Yeah, just scaring them off.”

“What’s wrong with your friend?” The man looked down at Kid, as he stepped closer.

“He’s not feeling too well.”

“I guessed that.” The man took a closer look at Kid, seeing the bloody bandage around his head. “He hurt bad?”

Kid looked up at him through tired eyes. His hand still clenched around his gun.

“He may have concussion,” Heyes explained, standing, protectively, in front of his friend.

“I’ve got a cabin just around the bend. Think he can make it that far?” He gave them both a friendly smile. “I’ve got coffee and food and you could rest up some. I don’t reckon you’ll get off the mountain before nightfall and, to tell the truth, I don’t get much company. So you boys are welcome to stay.”

Heyes made the decision.

“Thank you, we’d appreciate that.”

“Name’s Oakley, Wilbur Oakley,” the man told him, holding out his hand. Heyes took it, shaking it as he did so.

“Joshua Smith and this is my partner, Thaddeus Jones.”

“Get him back on that horse and follow me.” With that, Oakley walked off.

Heyes turned back to his partner.

“Thaddeus,” he said, pointedly, in case Kid called out his real name. “Let’s get you back up.” He helped Kid to his feet. It didn’t look as if the blond man would be able to remain conscious for much longer. Blood soaked the bandanas and was running down the side of his face.

“I’m sorry,” Kid said, not sure what for, but it was all he could think of to say.

“Oakley has a cabin nearby. Think you can sit your horse for a bit longer?” Heyes asked, hopefully and two understanding blue eyes met his. Kid nodded.

“I’ll try.”

Heyes helped Kid back into the saddle. The blond man groaned, and held his side. Heyes wondered if any unseen damage had been done to his friend. Once he was satisfied Kid could stay on the horse, Heyes climbed back onto his own. He took the reins from Kid, who could do no more than hold onto the saddle horn, and set off after Oakley.

***

The mountain man led them away from the main trail and through the trees. Keeping an eye on Kid, Heyes urged the horses up a slope and then along a narrow track, until they emerged in a small clearing. Standing before them was a long single storey cabin. Heyes pulled the horses to a halt in front of the main door and climbed down. He looked up at Kid, worried by his glazed expression.

“Thaddeus, I hafta get you down,” Heyes said, gently. Kid did not respond.

“Let me help you with him,” Oakley offered. Heyes pulled Kid towards him and eased him from the saddle. Kid’ knees buckled, as he hit the ground, but the large man caught him. With Kid supported between them, Heyes and Oakley half walked, half carried him inside.

A fire crackled and snapped in a large stone fireplace. On one side was a kitchen area and stove, on the other a bunk. The mountain man led the way to the bunk and they eased Kid down. The blond man was barely conscious when his head touched the pillow.

“He’s safe enough there for now,” Oakley said. “C’mon, let’s see to your horses before the snow starts.”

“You expecting more?” Heyes asked and Oakley sniffed the air as they went outside.

“Yep, it’s on the wind,” the man said, confidently. Heyes looked up at the grey clouds and hoped Oakley was wrong.

Attached to the cabin was a stable and storeroom. A connecting door linked it to the living quarters. Heyes led the horses inside and began to unsaddle them. Oakley opened the link door.

“I’ll get the coffee on,” he said before he disappeared.

***

“Heyes?” Kid said quietly, as he opened his eyes and looked around. There was no answer. Blurred shapes came slowly into focus. Animal skins hung above his head alongside saucepans and attached to one rafter, there was a shotgun. Kid heard a movement. “Heyes? Heyes you there?” he asked, weakly, trying to sit up but failing miserably.

Wilbur Oakley stood perfectly still in the shadows, as the injured blond man called the name again.

“Heyes?”

Wilbur looked thoughtfully at the young man and turned to look, through the open door, at the dark-haired man unsaddling his horse. When he returned his attention to the man on the bunk, Kid was no longer awake.

***

As he pulled off his horse’s saddle, Heyes took time to look around. The storeroom was filled with tools, sacks of feed, and tins of food. The big man was clearly expecting to be here for a while. Heyes tended to Kid’s horse, saw both animals had feed and water before carrying the saddle bags through to the main room. The smell of fresh coffee filled the air and Heyes’ stomach rumbled. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was. He shot a glance at Kid, who appeared to be sleeping. Heyes’ eyes took in the rest of the cabin. There was a window over the sink, looking out on the area in front of the cabin and a small bookcase next to the main door. Another bunk was against the same wall as the one Kid lay on and there was a makeshift cupboard between the two, at Kid’s feet. A table and three chairs stood in the middle of the room. Over head, in the rafters, were numerous pelts and an array of pots and pans.

“Here.” Oakley, held out a cup of coffee to Heyes. “Sit down.”

The dark-haired young man didn’t need to be asked twice. He pulled out a chair and eased himself into it. Oakley sat on the other side of the table and looked across at Kid.

“What happened to him?”

“We got caught in an avalanche.”

“I saw that. You’re lucky to be alive,” Oakley observed. “I’ve got some bandages and iodine somewhere.” He got up and began to rummage in the cupboard below the sink. “I reckon we can clean him up some,” he said as he stood up, triumphantly holding up the things he’d found. Heyes took them from him, with thanks. Oakley poured some water into a basin and placed it on the table along with a clean cloth.

While the trapper set about dealing, unsentimentally, with the two rabbits he had caught that day, Heyes went to sit beside his friend. Gently he undid the bandana. Kid groaned when Heyes removed it; the blood having dried and stuck the cloth to the wound. Two blue eyes opened.

“Hey..”

“It’s okay,” Heyes said quickly, before his friend could give away his real name. He bathed the wound on the side of Kid’s head, wiping away the dried blood on his face. “This is gonna sting,” Heyes announced, as he applied the iodine.

Kid grimaced and groaned, pulling away from the cloth, as Heyes touched the wound and the liquid did just as he predicted. Heyes did his best to hold his partner’s head still, as the iodine got to work. Kid glared at him, gritting his teeth, but he did not complain. That in itself, worried Heyes. If Kid was hurting he usually let you know. If he didn’t you knew it was bad. When the wound was bound with clean bandages, Heyes held up one finger.

“Thaddeus how many fingers am I holding up?” he asked.

“Oh not that again,” Kid groaned.

“C’mon, humour me,” his friend encouraged. Kid focused on Heyes’ hand.

“One,” he stated, definitely.

“And now?”

Kid looked again.

“Three.”

“Good. Now follow my finger with your eyes.”

Kid met Heyes’ eyes and the dark-haired man knew that, if there hadn’t been someone else in the room, his partner would have told him exactly what he thought.

“Do it,” Heyes said, firmly, as he moved his finger from left to right. Kid followed it with his eyes.

“What’s the verdict doc?” he asked, when Heyes had finished and his eyelids grew heavy.

“You need to rest,” Heyes decided.

“Coulda told you that,” Kid muttered, closing his eyes.

“Don’t sleep yet,” his friend warned. “I need to check your side.” He undid Kid’s gun belt and pulled it from around his waist. Kid watched, anxious to see where his gun would be, should he need it in a hurry. As luck would have it there were two hooks on the wall beside the bunk and Heyes hung the gun belt there. Kid seemed satisfied with this. Heyes gently pulled Kid’s shirt free from the waistband of his jeans. He eased his Henley free too. “Let’s see how bad those bruises are,” the dark-haired man said, as Kid watched him.

There was a large, red and purple bruise covering Kid’s ribs on his left side. It was impressive and no doubt painful.

“Hmmm,” said Oakley, as he took a look over Heyes’ shoulder. “Any ribs broke?”

“I don’t know,” Heyes admitted. Without a word, Oakley leaned forward and placed two cold hands on Kid’s torso. The blond man flinched. “Hey, careful!” Heyes warned and then Oakley pressed down and Kid cried out, uttering curses Heyes hadn’t heard from his partner in a good few months, as the older man examined him. The blond man doubled up in pain and shot an icy blue glare at Oakley, and his hand locked around one of the big man’s wrists.

“What are you doing?” Heyes cried, as he moved to pull Oakley away. The grey-haired man stepped back.

“Nope, they ain’t broke,” he stated, confidently, after his impromptu examination. He seemed unconcerned by their protestations.

“How can you be sure?” Heyes asked, angrily, as his partner fought the pain and he let go of Oakley’s wrist.

“Well, I’ve had a few broken ribs myself, in my time and my partner, Jethro, he had a few too. Had to nurse that man all winter and boy did he complain something rotten. I’d say you was just badly bruised son and lucky at that.”

It was obvious, from the glare Kid was giving Oakley, that he wasn’t feeling particularly lucky at that moment. However, the gunslinger’s glare had no affect on the old timer.

“Rest easy boy,” Wilbur said, patting Kid on the shoulder, as he returned to his coffee.

“What d’you think?” Heyes asked his friend.

“About what?” Kid grumbled, angrily.

“Your ribs.”

“I don’t know.” Kid’s voice was weak.

“Rest up.” Heyes pulled the blanket over his friend. “I’ll wake you when the food’s ready.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Now Heyes really was worried.

***

Oakley was a good cook. It didn’t take him long to fix an aromatic rabbit stew. He ladled out a couple of generous, steaming portions into a bowl and placed it on the table in front of Heyes. He passed the young man a spoon, before fixing a bowl for himself, and placing a few biscuits on a plate between them.

“You sure you don’t want to wake him?” Oakley asked, nodding a head in Kid’s direction.

“I think it’s best to let him sleep for now,” the dark-haired man said, watching his friend. He blew on a spoonful of stew to cool it. “How long have you been up here Wilbur?”

“Years,” the man began to explain. “Started out with my partner, Jethro, about twenty years back. We built this cabin and tried our hand at gold mining up in the creek. We thought we was gonna be rich; get ourselves a big mansion out in California. Trouble is we didn’t find much.” He laughed as he remembered. “So then we started trapping. We got pretty good at it too.” Oakley paused to take a mouthful of stew.

“What happened to your partner?”

The big man sighed and wiped a hand across his mouth and beard.

“A Grizzly bear got him ten years back.” Heyes detected the sadness in his eyes. “It came outta nowhere, killed him with one swipe of its paw. I emptied two loads into that animal before it went down.” He took another mouthful of stew, chewing thoughtfully. “Jethro was a fine man and a good partner. I sure do miss him. I trusted that man with my life. You need that when you’re up here. You know what I mean?” He looked up at Heyes, who nodded, then looked across at Kid.

“Yeah, I do.”

“So now I’m up here by myself, but I get by.”

“You didn’t want to go back to town?”

“No, it’s too noisy; too many people. I like the peace and quiet up here.”

“Don’t you get lonely?” Heyes asked.

“I make it into town every now and then to stock up on supplies or when I feel the need for a little female company. I ain’t too old yet, ya know.” He chuckled, giving Heyes a smile. “But you’d be surprised how many folks seem to drop by up here,” Oakley told him. “Just like you fellas did.” Eagerly he scooped up the last of his stew and Heyes did the same.

***

When the old man went to fetch some wood, Heyes pulled a chair up next to Kid. He sat sipping on a cup of coffee, watching his partner’s laboured breathing. Even in his sleep, Kid was clearly in pain. As if sensing his friend’s presence, Kid’s eyes opened.

“Heyes?” Kid said, weakly.

“Yeah, I’m here. And you’d better stick to Joshua.”

“I think someone was here before,” Kid said, confusing his partner. “I called your name. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Heyes looked to the cabin door, wondering if Oakley had heard and if he knew. “You up to eatin’ something?”

“No, but I could use a drink.”

“Coffee or water?”

“Water.”

Heyes fetched some and helped his friend sit up so that he could take a few mouthfuls. Kid let out a groan as he lay back down.

“When you want us to get goin, just let me know,” he told Heyes and the dark-haired man smiled.

“Well Wilbur says we can stay the night, so you rest and we’ll see how you are in the morning,” Heyes said. “How’s your head now?”

“It hurts,” Kid told him, truthfully. “I feel like Kyle let off a stick of dynamite in my head and then rode over me to get away.”

Heyes smiled.

“Get some sleep.”

“Okay,” the blond man agreed and he closed his eyes, once more.

***

The cabin was in darkness. Outside the wind howled and snow lashed at the window. Wilbur lay sprawled on his bunk, sound asleep. He was snoring; loudly. Heyes had laid out his blanket and bed roll on the floor. A cold draft crept under the door and made him shiver. He lay on his back, his hands behind his head, staring up at the rafters, listening to Wilbur’s snoring. Snore, snore, snore, snort. After every three snores the man would give a snort as air seemed to catch in the back of his throat. Heyes listened again, waiting for the inevitable snort. He let out a long sigh. He had fixed on Wilbur’s snoring hoping to stop his brain…thinking. It wasn’t working. What if Kid wasn’t well enough to travel in the morning? What if Oakley knew who they were? What if he’d overheard Kid? What would he do about it? Why hadn’t he done anything about it already? They should leave as soon as they could. He could get Kid on his horse, if need be they could ride double. Where to go next? Big Mac had suggested he might have something for them. Maybe they should head down to Red Rock.

He pleaded with his brain to switch off and let him get some sleep. Snore, snore, snore, snort. Eventually, even Hannibal Heyes’ brain had to rest and with numerous thoughts still running through his mind, and Wilbur Oakley’s snoring resounding around the cabin, Heyes did finally drift off to sleep.

***

A wall of snow hurtled towards them. Heyes turned his horse, as beside him Kid struggled to control his bay. Heyes rode frantically along the trail, turning just in time to see the white shroud surround his friend. He could do nothing but watch, open mouthed as Kid and his horse were swept down the mountainside.

“KID!” he cried, his heart pounding in his chest. “NO!” The pounding grew louder. Thud. THUD! THUD!

“What the…!” Wilbur Oakley exclaimed and Heyes dragged himself from sleep.

THUD! THUD! THUD! It was still dark and someone was pounding on the door. The wind was howling through gaps in the woodwork as Oakley stumbled from his bunk. Stumbling in the dark, he stepped on Heyes. The dark-haired young man cried out as Oakley’s full weight was placed on his leg.

“Oh, sorry,” Oakley apologised as fell into the bookcase and Heyes grimaced. The pounding continued.

“Open up!” a man’s voice cried.

Oakley made it to the door.

“Who’s there?”

“Let me in! Name’s Nash. I’m from Butterfield. I’m freezing out here! I’d sure appreciate it if I could come inside outta this blizzard.”

“Wait a minute,” Oakley called back and he lit a lamp, on the bookcase. The room was bathed in an orange glow. Heyes smiled when he saw Kid had pulled himself up on one elbow, his gun in his hand, aimed at the door. He looked confused and more than a little bleary eyed. The partners exchanged a glance and Heyes shook his head, not knowing who the visitor was. He picked up his own gun, as Wilbur lifted the wooden bar from across the door. As it opened a man stumbled inside, a cloud of snow followed him along with a blast of cold air. Oakley slammed the door shut. The man began to pound his clothes scattering snow about him.

“Hey careful!” Heyes called, as he was covered in snow.

“Sorry,” the man said, moving away. “Oh boy was I glad to find this cabin,” he added, as he unravelled the scarf about his head and face. He was revealed to be a tall, dark-haired man, with a drooping moustache, now coated in ice crystals. He smiled at the three men staring at him and then stood perfectly still when he noticed the two six guns pointed in his direction. Slowly he raised his gloved hands.

Wilbur Oakley turned to see why the man’s hands were raised. Seeing Heyes and Kid with their guns drawn, he gave them a disapproving look, reminiscent of that their own parents had given them many times as children.

“Put your guns away boys,” Wilbur said.

Cautiously, they lowered their weapons. Kid and Heyes exchanged a look. The dark-haired man returned his gun to its holster, but Kid merely rested his on the blanket, that covered him, and waited.

“You come over by the fire and getcha self warm, fella,” Wilbur said. “I’ll get some coffee on.”

Heyes dragged his bed roll to one side, as the man began to undo his snow covered coat. When he removed it, the partners saw the flash of lamp-light on metal and the glint of a star pinned to his chest.

“I about near froze to death out there,” the man told them, rubbing his hands together, trying to get the blood circulating again. “Name’s Nash, Sheriff Albert Nash.” The partner’s exchanged a worried look. Kid groaned, closed his eyes and lay back in resignation.

“Well come on over here and get warm,” Oakley said, generously, as he stoked the fire. He pulled a chair out from the table and the lawman sank into it gratefully. He held out his hands to the flames. “You weren’t sheriff last time I was in Butterfield,” Oakley stated, watching the other man’s reaction. Heyes tensed, sensing a possible problem.

“I arrived four months ago,” Nash explained. “You don’t get into town much do you?”

“Not much,” Oakley admitted.

“Tyler finally married his fiancée. He’s moved to Winter to be nearer her folks.”

“Well good for him,” Oakley said with a chuckle. “I bet Emma thought she’d never get that man down the aisle.”

“Apparently, that’s true,” Nash grinned.

“Whatcha doing up here in the middle of the night, Sheriff?”

“I’m on the trail of two outlaws, that were reported seen around these parts.” To Heyes’, rapidly planning mind, even the wind outside seemed to die down at that moment. He made a conscious effort not to look at Kid and held his breath. Wilbur looked from the dark-haired man to his injured blond companion.

“Outlaws?” Wilbur said. “Who you after?”

“A couple of bank robbers,” Nash replied over his shoulder, his hands still held towards the fire. Heyes tensed; it wasn’t getting any better.

“What are their names?” Wilbur asked meeting Heyes eyes and the ex-outlaw leader realised that Wilbur knew. The question was, what was he going to do about it? Heyes hand still rested on his gun. He risked a look at Kid. His partner was clearly still woozy but his narrowed eyes told him he was ready. He raised his gun barrel just enough to let Heyes know, he would take the lawman if asked. Heyes gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

“Tucker and Riggs,” the sheriff said. “A real mean pair. They robbed the bank in Butterfield and killed the bank manager; left my deputy wounded.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Sheriff,” Heyes said, relieved, as he moved to stand beside Kid. “How’s that coffee coming along Wilbur?” The grey-haired man met Heyes gaze and then turned back to the stove. Heyes looked down at his partner.

Kid sat with his back against the wall, his gun resting in his lap, his eyes darting between the sheriff and Oakley, then enquiringly at Heyes. His friend shrugged; he didn’t know what was happening either. When Wilbur turned around, with two cups of coffee in his hand, he found himself staring into two ice blue eyes. Wilbur Oakley made no attempt to outstare the fastest gun in the west. Instead he placed the cups on the table, one in front of Nash, the other near Heyes.

“D’you want one Thaddeus?” he asked, meeting Kid’s gaze once more.

“No thanks.” Kid shook his head. Then he winced, as his head swam. Heyes pulled out a chair and sat down, close to his partner. He had the feeling it was going to be a long night.

***

“Where’s your horse?” Wilbur asked the sheriff.

“I tied it to a tree. Anywhere I can shelter him?”

“Sure. I reckon there’s room in the stalls next door.” He looked at Heyes. “Joshua, d’you think you could go get him? Bring him inside?”

Not wanting to leave Kid alone with Wilbur and the sheriff, Heyes was reluctant to go.

“Now? In the dark?” Heyes asked.

“You ain’t afraid of the dark are you?” Wilbur grinned. Heyes didn’t dignify that with an answer. “It won’t take you long. Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Thaddeus,” the old man assured him, realising Heyes’ hesitation. Heyes couldn’t think of a reason not to go that wouldn’t arouse the sheriff’s suspicions. So, with one eye on Wilbur, he pushed back his chair and headed for the door. Heyes pulled on his coat, turning the collar up against the wind. Wilbur handed him a lantern and opened the cabin door. A swirl of snow blew in. Heyes took the lamp and stepped into the cold. Wilbur closed the door behind him.

As the snow blew around him, Heyes squinted to see a tall black horse tied beneath the trees. Head down he pushed his way through the snow drift towards the animal. The horse stepped nervously as the man approached. Heyes uttered a few soothing words and laid a comforting hand on the horse’s neck, before untying the reins from the branch. He led the animal across the clearing towards the cabin, threw open the door and led the horse inside. As he pushed the door shut, the horse found its way into the stall along side his own horse. Heyes removed the saddle, cast a glance at the dividing door and opened the sheriff’s saddlebags. Reaching inside, Heyes pulled out a pile of papers and baulked at the sight of wanted posters. He wondered if his own was in there along with Kid’s.

“Joshua, everything okay?” Wilbur called.

“Fine,” Heyes replied and quickly stuffed the posters back in the bags.

***

Wilbur and Sheriff Nash sat at the table, each nursing a cup of coffee when Heyes opened the dividing door. He took off his coat and shook it, shivering as he did so.

“Here, have some coffee,” Wilbur said, pouring a steaming cup from the coffeepot on the stove. Thanking him, Heyes took it, using it to warm his hands. The light of dawn broke through the window. Heyes cast a glance at the bunk; Kid had finally given into sleep. Walking over to his friend, Heyes removed the gun from Kid’s hand, placed it back in his holster, in case he shot anyone in his sleep. Two blue eyes opened momentarily, just enough to check where the gun went. Heyes smiled and, satisfied, Kid closed his eyes once more.

Sitting back down with the two men, Heyes looked from the old man to the sheriff. He had yet to work out what Oakley knew about them and why he hadn’t said a word to the lawman. He decided to play along for now, while remaining on his guard.

“Charlie Tucker’s a nasty piece of work,” the sheriff was saying as Heyes looked up from his coffee. “He and Weazel Riggs robbed a farm and the bank in Greenwood a couple of weeks back. They are quite a pair. They shot their way out of the bank in Butterfield, that’s when the bank manager was killed and my deputy was hit in the leg.”

Oakley looked at Heyes, who did not react.

“I got together a posse but we lost ‘em when they hit the tree line. I sent them back but carried on. I met a trapper and he said he’d seen a couple fitting their description out this way.”

“Well what do they look like?” Oakley asked. “Maybe I’ve seen ‘em too.”

“I have their wanted posters here.” Nash got up and walked to where his coat was now hanging on the back of the door. Heyes watched as the sheriff withdrew two folded pieces of paper and returned to the table. “Here we are.” He unfolded the posters for Tucker and Riggs. Oakley leaned on the table, studying the descriptions.

“Charlie Tucker, five feet seven inches tall, dark hair, slim build…” he looked up at Heyes. “Could almost be you Joshua,” he said with a smile. “’Cept he’s a little shorter.”

Heyes gave a weak smile in return, wondering what the man was playing at.

“Yeah, but Tucker has a scar down his right cheek, two missing front teeth and a flat nose. You’re off the hook Mr Smith,” the lawman told him, introductions having been dealt with over coffee earlier.

“What about Riggs?” Oakley wanted to know.

“Weazel lives up to his name,” Nash said as he read. “Five feet ten inches tall, thin, narrow face, long brown hair, sunken eyes, pointed nose.” He looked up at Heyes. “Not the greatest catch for the ladies,” he said with a smile. “Wears a brown Stetson with two feathers in the black band.”

“I haven’t seen either of them,” Oakley told him. “What about you Joshua? Seen any outlaws?”

The sheriff laughed, assuming it was meant in jest. Heyes smiled, but there was no laughter in his eyes. He knew he and Oakley were going to have a talk real soon.

“I’ve got some bacon in the storeroom,” the trapper said. “I reckon it’s about time for breakfast.” He headed for the other room.

“What happened to your friend?” Sheriff Nash asked Heyes, as he looked at the sleeping blond man.

“We were caught in an avalanche,” Heyes explained, feeling decidedly uncomfortable under the lawman’s scrutiny. “Thaddeus was knocked from his horse.”

“He hurt bad?”

“His head hurts and he’s bruised his ribs.”

“He was lucky then. I’ve known men who were killed in an avalanche.” The sheriff took a good long look at the young man, as if committing his face to memory and Heyes felt the need to change that.

“How long will you trail them?” Heyes asked, quickly changing the subject. “Tucker and Riggs that is.”

“Oh I’ll head back to town when the snow leaves off. We have a big trial coming up and I have to be there. I just wish I was taking those two back with me.” The lawman yawned. “Sorry. I haven’t had much sleep these past couple of days.”

“Why don’t you put your head down, for a while?” Heyes indicated the other bunk. “We’ll wake you when breakfast is ready.”

“Thanks, maybe I will.” The sheriff got up and headed for the bunk.

When he was satisfied Nash was going to sleep, Heyes said, “I’m gonna see if Wilbur needs a hand.”

The sheriff nodded and closed his eyes.

The storeroom was illuminated by a single lamp. The horses shifted nervously in their stalls as the wind whistled outside.

“You find what you need?” Heyes asked, conversationally. Oakley turned around and Heyes found a shotgun pointed at his stomach. The dark-haired ex-outlaw froze and, slowly, raised his eyes to meet Oakley’s.

“Do I need this?” Wilbur asked.

“I don’t know,” Heyes replied, calmly. “What you plannin’ on doin’?”

“Well that depends on you Mr. Heyes.”

“Name’s Smith,” Heyes reminded him.

“No it ain’t and your friend ain’t Jones, neither,” Oakley stated, confidently. He lowered the gun and Heyes breathed a sigh of relief. Oakley replaced the gun in a box. “Ain’t loaded anyhow,” he said and Heyes had to admit he was confused.

He shot a look back at the connecting door, checking it was still closed.

“I don’t know who you think we are Wilbur, but…”

Oakley held up his hand.

“You’re Hannibal Heyes and your young friend is no doubt Kid Curry,” the grey-haired man said. “He called your name when you first got here.”

Heyes didn’t say anything, just watched and waited.

“I don’t plan on turnin’ you in. I got no special love for the law and you ain’t done me no harm, but that boy in there’s hurt and scared. I saw it in his eyes. His hand’s twitching on that gun and I want your assurance he won’t hurt Nash.”

“He won’t,” Heyes assured him. He’d seen it too. Kid was hurt, and not as quick as he could be. He’d worry about protecting Heyes more than himself. “My partner’s not a killer.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard.”

“Then you’ve heard wrong,” Heyes snapped back.

“I hope you’re right.”

The two men stared at each other.

“I’m happy for you to remain Joshua and Thaddeus,” Oakley finally stated.

“Why?” Heyes needed to know.

“You mean why don’t I turn you in for the reward?”

“Amongst other things.”

“I ain’t got no use for that kind of money no more.”

“It could be the start towards that mansion in California,” Heyes said with a smile.

“Oh heck, what would I do living out there at my age?” Oakley grinned back.

Heyes could have given him some ideas but he was not about to push his luck.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t thank me yet. We’ve still got a sheriff sitting next door with Kid Curry.” He smiled at Heyes, conspiratorially. “C’mon lets get this stuff in there and I’ll rustle us up some breakfast.”

***

The smell of cooking bacon roused Kid. His ears picked up the snap and sizzle of hot fat and his stomach rumbled. Opening his eyes he took a moment to get his bearings. Heyes smiled at him from his seat at the table.

“Do I smell food?” Kid asked.

“Wilbur’s cooking breakfast.”

“Oh what we got?” Kid slowly pulled himself up on the bunk. He winced as he did so, his ribs still hurting. He held them, hoping to ease the pain.

“Bacon, biscuits and beans,” Wilbur told him.

“D’you cook anything that doesn’t begin with a ‘B’?” Kid asked and Heyes suppressed a smile.

“Yep, but you wouldn’t want to eat it,” Wilbur told him and the other men laughed.

The sheriff swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, stretched as he stood up and joined Heyes at the table. Kid shot a look at his friend and Heyes’ eyes told him everything was still okay. Kid relaxed, a little.

***

Heyes had changed the bandage on Kid’s head. The wound was healing but the skin had yet to close properly and it was still bleeding. Despite his protestations that he was fine, the fastest gun in the west was soon asleep again. Oakley noted Heyes’ concern for his partner. The dark-haired man didn’t say anything, but it was obvious he was worried. His friend was injured and they had a sheriff taking too much interest in them.

***

The sheriff, Oakley and Heyes sat at the table. Heyes studied the cards in his hand and then tossed some coins into the pot. Behind him Kid was asleep again. Oakley had suggested a game of poker as the breakfast things were cleaned away. He pulled out a deck of cards and they settled down to the game, as the wind continued to whistle outside the cabin.

“So what were you boys doing up here?” the sheriff asked, as he tossed a coin into the pot.

“Oh, just passing through, on our way to Winter,” Heyes told him, casually.

“On your way to Winter huh?” the sheriff repeated, thoughtfully.

“Yes, sheriff,” Heyes said politely. “We’d heard there could be a job for us there.”

“What do you boys do?”

“Anything that pays enough for food and a bed.”

The sheriff’s eyes turned to the injured man, asleep on the bunk.

“Have you two been friend’s long?”

“Yes.”

“What will you do now? I mean it don’t look like he’s going to be up to much work for a while.”

“Well then I guess I’ll just have to win some more of your money sheriff,” Heyes told him as he laid his cards on the table. Wilbur let out a laugh.

“He beat you again sheriff!”

The lawman did his best to appear a good loser.

***

Finding himself alone while Heyes and the old man went to fetch more firewood, the sheriff’s eyes fell on Kid’s gun, hanging in its holster. He looked down at the sleeping blond man, pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. Kid did not wake. Reaching over Nash removed the Colt. The gun felt comfortable in his hand; it was a fine looking weapon. He was suddenly aware of two blue eyes fixed on him.

“Nice gun,” the sheriff said, feeling a little embarrassed at having been caught with it. “D’you build the balance in?”

“Yeah,” Kid stated.

“A man who builds balance like that into his gun, must know how to use it real well,” the lawman mused, as he studied Kid’s face more closely. Kid wasn’t happy with the scrutiny he was receiving. He knew he had to say something but his brain was still muddled. The sheriff’s focus was still on him and Kid felt uncomfortable.

“Oh he can’t hardly hit a thing, sheriff,” Heyes said, behind him. The sheriff looked up and saw Heyes standing there, arms laden with logs. Kid sent his friend an unspoken thank you. “He just likes to look the part. He’s got the swagger down too. I reckon he just does that to attract the ladies.” Heyes dumped the logs into a box beside the stove.

The sheriff smiled but Kid said nothing. Replacing the gun, he returned to his seat, as Oakley walked in. He saw the sheriff’s gaze move from one outlaw to the other but no one said a word.

***

“Are you sure we haven’t met before?” the sheriff asked. Heyes head snapped up, a spoonful of stew hovered in mid air. “You two seem awfully familiar,” the lawman explained. It was evening now and the wind continued to howl outside.

“We’ve just got common faces I guess,” Heyes said, with a smile.

“I don’t know,” Nash continued. “Maybe we rode together in a posse once.”

Kid was sitting up on the bunk, leaning back against the wall, a bowl of stew resting on his lap. He coughed, quickly clung onto the bowl, trying not to spill its contents, and gave his partner a look. Clearly it was up to Heyes to talk them out of this one.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been in a posse, sheriff,” Heyes said. “Not that we wouldn’t have done so had we been asked,” he added, quickly.

“Oh sure Joshua, we’d have joined, had we been asked,” Kid agreed.

“Well there’s something in the back of my mind…” the lawman pondered.

“More stew sheriff?” Oakley asked, banging the pot down on the table, startling them all. He slopped a spoonful into the lawman’s bowl and steered the conversation towards a different topic, for which both partners were grateful.

***

Nash studied the piece of paper. It was a wanted poster. He read the description of Hannibal Heyes. He read it again. His brow furrowed; a thoughtful expression on his face.

Kid and Heyes were well aware of the papers the sheriff was looking at. He’d happily announced he might find someone in there to make the connection he felt between them.

He continued to read. Aged 29. Height 5 feet, 11 inches. Dark brown hair, brown eyes. Oakley watched the change in expression on the sheriff’s face. He reached out.

A sudden flood of hot brown liquid flowed across the table and over the pile of wanted posters.

“What the..!” the sheriff exclaimed as Oakley’s coffee soaked into the papers.

“Oh sorry!” the old timer said, leaping to his feet. “I can be so clumsy at times.” He grabbed the posters and handed them to Heyes, meeting the dark-haired man’s gaze as he did so. “Joshua take these, help dry them off,” he said pointedly. He met Heyes’ eyes as he handed him two particular posters. Heyes quickly handed them to Kid while the sheriff’s attention was on the posters on the table still soaking up the coffee. Kid hid the papers beneath the blanket.

As the sheriff and Oakley mopped up the coffee, Heyes found himself, uncharacteristically, lost for words.

***

“Why’d he do that?” Kid asked.

“I don’t know,” Heyes said, thoughtfully, still lost in admiration for the old man.

“Wilbur definitely knows who we are,” Heyes told Kid, as the old timer tended to the horses and the sheriff battled his way to the outhouse.

“I guess that was me, sorry.”

“Oh don’t worry about it. Wilbur isn’t going to do anything about it.”

***

The following morning, the wind was still howling and the snow still blowing. As they had used all the logs inside the cabin, Heyes made his way through the biting wind to the woodpile. He gathered as many logs as he could carry in his arms, then turning into the bitter wind, made his way back to the cabin door. The door to the storeroom and stable was open so he quickly slipped inside. Seeing a pile of snow on the floor, Heyes chastised himself for not closing it properly. He dropped the wood into the box and felt the touch of cold metal on his neck.

“Don’t make a sound,” a voice said behind him. Heyes did as he was told and felt someone remove his gun from his holster. The outside door closed. A man stepped into view. He had a long black coat buttoned up to the neck and on his head a black hat was pulled down low. Heyes studied him. About five foot nine inches tall, brown hair, brown eyes, thin scar down his left cheek. The man sneered at him, revealing two missing front teeth. So this was Charlie Tucker.

Tucker waved the gun in Heyes’ face, ordering him to step back against one of the stalls. At the same time another man appeared from inside the stall. He was thinner than Tucker but about the same height, with dirty blond hair, a long, sharp nose and sunken eyes. He didn’t smile, so Heyes had yet to determine the state of his dentistry. However, he assumed this was Weazel.

“What do you want fellas?” Heyes asked, casually. “If you’re looking for shelter, we’d be glad to put you up for a day or so.”

“Turn around and put your hands behind your back,” Tucker ordered. Heyes mind raced. What would happen when they found Sheriff Nash was here? Was there about to be a bloody shoot out? How could he warn Kid? Come to that, what were they going to do to him? “I said turn around!” Tucker repeated.

Heyes did as he was told, his mind running through the possibilities open to him.

“Who are you?” Weazel began to tie his hands together at the wrists. “We don’t have much money here if that’s what you want.”

“Shut up,” Tucker told him and Weazel removed the bandana from around Heyes’ neck and used it to gag the dark-haired man. Pulling Heyes roughly back to face him, Tucker indicated, by a wave of his gun, that Heyes should head towards the connecting door. A hand shoved him in the back, when he did not move fast enough.

Oakley and Nash looked up, from their seats at the table, when the door opened. Expecting to see Joshua return with a pile of wood they were not ready for the sight of a trussed up and gagged Heyes and two outlaws, brandishing guns.

“What the…” Oakley gasped and the sheriff was swiftly on his feet.

“Don’t anybody move!” Tucker instructed, stepping out from behind Heyes. He grinned at them, holding his gun on them all. “Well, well, well. If it ain’t Sheriff Nash,” Tucker sneered, as Weazel walked over and relieved Oakley and Nash of their weapons.

“Tucker!” the sheriff said with disgust. The outlaw shoved the lawman onto the nearest bunk. Nash glared at him, as he sat down hard. Tucker smiled. His eyes went to the old man still at the table.

“Put your hands flat on the table,” he ordered. Wilbur complied, watching.

Heyes’ eyes shot to Kid. The blond man’s expression was unreadable to everyone in the room except Heyes. Kid’s gun was no longer hanging on the hook. If he hadn’t been gagged, Heyes would have smiled.

Kid lay quietly, waiting for the men to notice him.

“Tucker,” Weazel said, when he saw a blond man, with a bandage around his head, apparently asleep on the bunk nearest the fire. The man with the scar on his cheek looked down at Kid.

“Hey wake up!” he cried, as he gave Kid a shove. Two blue eyes opened slowly and Kid did his best to look confused. “Get up!”

The blond man looked up at him, weakly.

“He can’t,” Wilbur told him. “He was hurt in the avalanche.”

Kid looked as weak as he could, which, considering his present state of health, didn’t require much acting.

“Who are you?” Tucker demanded.

“Jones,” Kid whispered, his voice dry and croaky. “Thaddeus Jones.” Who are you?”

“Leave him be,” Oakley said. “The boy’s hurt, he won’t do you no harm.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Weazel asked.

“He’s got a bad head wound,” Oakley told him; surprised the bandage around the blond man’s head hadn’t been enough of a clue. “Probably broken ribs too. Can’t be sure ‘til we can get ‘im to a doctor.”

Tucker studied Kid, who lay quiet, apparently asleep once more. When he was satisfied the man was no threat to him, he returned his attention to his three other prisoners.

“Now we’re all gonna get along real friendly like. You…” he pointed at Wilbur. “You’re gonna rustle us up some grub. Something for Weazel and me.”

“Alright,” Wilbur agreed, as he stood up. “But take the gag off Joshua first. He don’t need that now.” Tucker nodded and Weazel removed the gag from Heyes’ mouth.

“Thank you,” Heyes said, politely, and exchanged a glance with Wilbur.

“Just don’t try anything old man, or the sheriff here gets a bullet,” Tucker warned as Wilbur headed to the stove. He cracked some eggs into a pan and busied himself preparing the food. Soon the smell of frying bacon filled the room.

A sudden cry caught everyone’s attention and they all looked towards the blond man, presumed asleep. Kid moaned again and writhed in apparent agony.

“What’s wrong with him now?” Weazel demanded, waving his gun in Heyes’ face as he did so. Kid cried out again. “Shut him up!”

“Let me go to him,” Heyes suggested. “I’ll calm him down.”

Tucker and Weazel exchanged a look, each needing the other to decide.

“Let him see to his friend,” Wilbur suggested. “He can’t do no harm and it’ll be a darn sight quieter.”

Kid gave another cry, his head turning from side to side as if lost in a bad dream.

“Tucker?” Weazel asked.

“Do it!” Tucker snapped and Weazel untied Heyes. Rubbing the blood back into his hands, Heyes got slowly to his feet. Making no sudden moves, he went to Kid’s side.

“Thaddeus?” Heyes said, with genuine concern. Kid writhed again and moaned in pain. “Thaddeus, it’s me, Joshua. Come on buddy, wake up.” He shook Kid by the shoulder. Two blue eyes shot open and looked quickly around. Heyes looked startled and then Kid winked at him before groaning dramatically once more.

“I thought you were sick,” Heyes whispered.

“You were meant to,” Kid replied; his voice equally low.

“He alright?” Tucker demanded.

“Just checking him over,” Heyes called back and Kid groaned loudly.

“What’s your plan?” Kid asked.

“Thaddeus, are you in pain?” Heyes said, loud enough for the others to hear. Kid gave a low moan. “I don’t have a plan,” his partner told him, quietly.

“Well you’d better come up with something. Just give me the nod when you do.”

“Alright. D’you think you could groan convincingly in about ten minutes?”

“I’ll do my best,” Kid whispered back. “What have you got in mind?”

“What’s going on?” Tucker asked, coming to stand beside Heyes. Kid groaned, pulling away from Heyes.

“I think he’s a little delirious,” Heyes told the outlaw.

“Can’t ya shut him up?”

“Well he’s calmer now.” As if on cue, Kid’s eyes flickered open and he looked up at Tucker.

“Who are you?” he asked, vaguely.

“The man who’s gonna shoot ya if ya don’t shut up,” Tucker informed him.

“I don’t know…” Kid began.

“It’s all right Thaddeus,” Heyes interrupted. “You were calling out in your sleep. You hurtin’?”

“Yeah, my ribs,” Kid told him, watching until he couldn’t see Tucker anymore.

“I’ll see if Wilbur has anything to help ease the pain,” Heyes told him and moved towards the old man.

“Hey get back here!” Weazel shouted.

“I’m just getting something for my friend,” Heyes told him, innocently. “He needs a drink.” Weazel shot a look at Tucker, who nodded.

“Okay,” Weazel told Heyes. “But I’ve got my eye on you.”

Heyes picked up a cup and filled it with water.

“Be ready,” he whispered to Wilbur.

“Don’t do anything foolish boy,” the old man warned.

“Smells good Wilbur,” Heyes said loudly, as Tucker approached them. He returned to Kid’s side and helped his friend take a sip of water.

Weazel watched him.

“Thank you,” Kid gasped, melodramatically.

Weazel looked away.

“I’ll take the weasel,” Kid said, giving a convincing cough as he lay back on the pillow.

“Be careful,” his partner warned. Heyes put the cup down on the table. Tucker waved his gun at him and Heyes sat down on a chair. He placed his hands flat on the table and waited. Heyes looked around; his eyes met the sheriff’s. The lawman gave a slight nod towards Weazel. Heyes shook his head, warning him against any rash move. They waited as Wilbur cooked. The only sounds breaking the silence were the sizzle of frying bacon and the occasional pop of spiting fat.

The old man reached for two plates.

“Your food’s ready,” he announced. “You gonna sit at the table?”

“Yeah, why not,” Tucker stated. “Weazel you eat first. I’ll watch these guys.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee it’ll stay warm,” Wilbur told him.

Weazel pulled out a chair, eagerly awaiting the food. The old man placed a plate of bacon, eggs and beans in front of him and Weazel began to fork it, swiftly, into his mouth. He smiled.

“It’s good grub,” he announced, his mouth stuffed with food. “Got any biscuits?”

Wilbur passed some to him. Tucker eyed the food and licked his lips.

“How ‘bout coffee?” Weazel asked. The old man reached for the coffee pot, poured a cup and placed it in front of the thin man. Tucker swallowed; his desire for food finally outweighing his need to keep an eye on the hostages. He walked over to the table, eyeing the hot food, hungrily.

“Should I dish you some up?” Wilbur asked. Tucker hesitated. That was all the time Heyes needed. He shoved Weazel’s plate of food into his lap and stood up, tipping the table as he did so. Weazel cried out as the hot food, and even hotter coffee, fell on him. Tucker looked at his friend and then at Heyes. He brought his gun up towards the dark-haired man and a gun shot rang out. Heyes looked at his abdomen, searching for the bullet wound, as Tucker’s gun went flying from his hand. Much to his surprise and relief, Heyes realised he hadn’t been hit.

Weazel, was swiftly on his feet, hot beans running down his stained pants. He reached for his gun, but before he could grab hold, there was the click of a hammer being drawn back and, looking up, Weazel saw a Colt .45 held in the confident hand of Kid Curry.

“Easy,” Kid cautioned.

Heyes smiled proudly at his partner, and then went to pick up Tucker’s gun, as Wilbur relieved Weazel of his.

“You gotta do something!” Weazel complained. “I’m burnin’! I think my…Oh heck you’ve scalded me…”

“Here.” Wilbur threw him a cloth soaked in cold water. “Put that on it!”

“I reckon it’d be better if he rolled in the snow,” Heyes suggested, helpfully.

“I’d freeze…” Weazel began.

“Freeze or burn, those are your choices,” Nash told him, flatly.

“Aw heck,” Weazel said. Turning his back, he began to undo his pants, then sat with the cloth in his lap.

“Better?” Wilbur asked.

“I guess,” Weazel whimpered.

Tucker’s hands were tied behind his back. For the time being, Weazel was considered less of a threat. Sheriff Nash was feeling particularly pleased to have the two outlaws in custody. Although pleased the situation was over, Heyes and Kid didn’t exactly share the lawman’s enthusiasm. It could so easily be them.

When Weazel was dressed again, his hands were also tied. The two bound men were led into the storage room. Sheriff Nash wanted to get them back to town as soon as he could. The wind had died down and he was eager to get started. Wilbur went with him to assess the likelihood of the horses making the trip.

“You ain’t gonna make me sit a horse are ya?” they heard Weazel groan. “I mean you’ve plum scorched…” The door closed.

“Nice shooting,” Heyes said when he and Kid were alone. Kid sat on the bunk with his back against the wall. “I think I still have my ear left.” Heyes pretended to check, running a hand under his hair.

“It wasn’t that close.”

“I felt the draught.”

“Would you have been happier if I’d let him shoot you?”

“No, I’m just saying…”

“I know Heyes, I know.”

The partner’s exchanged a smile.

“I thought I was supposed to give a groan,” Kid reminded his friend. “What happened to the plan?”

“I went for plan B.”

“I didn’t know we had a plan B.”

“Neither did I,” Heyes admitted. “D’you think you’re up to riding? I’d like to get going as soon as we can. I think we need to be away from here.”

“Prop me up on a horse if you have to,” Kid told him.

***

Heyes stood beside Wilbur Oakley watching Sheriff Nash ride out. Weazel and Tucker, their hands bound behind their backs, rode behind with the sheriff leading their horses.

“Thaddeus and I will be riding out too,” Heyes announced.

“Is he well enough?” Wilbur asked as he turned to face Heyes.

“We think it best to get moving,” Heyes said, not answering the question. He headed back into the cabin.

“You don’t have to go on my account. I ain’t gonna tell anyone, you know that,” Wilbur told him, as he followed Heyes inside.

Kid’s head snapped up. He shot an enquiring glance at his partner.

“I know, it’s just…” Heyes began.

“Wait ‘til mornin’. Give him another night’s rest at least,” the grey-haired man suggested, nodding his head in Kid’s direction. He knew the outlaw was still concerned about his friend. Heyes met his gaze, considering this. “I’ll cook you both breakfast before you leave, how does that sound? I might even cook something that don’t begin with a B. What d’you say?”

Heyes smiled and exchanged a look with his partner.

“If I don’t say yes, I don’t think my partner will ever let me hear the last of it,” Heyes stated, with a smile.

“Well that settles it then.” Wilbur turned towards the stove.

Heyes looked at Kid, who lowered himself back on the pillow and closed his eyes.

THE END

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