Cold Fear

Cold Fear

(Giving Thanks the extended version)

By Maz McCoy

The young blond boy looked at the plate of food in front of him and his stomach rumbled in anticipation. The turkey was still steaming and he watched his father carve more slices for his brothers and sisters. When everyone had a plate before them, grace was said. The children were then asked, in turn, to say something they were thankful for on this Thanksgiving. Jed watched and listened as his oldest brother began…

Kid looked into his cup of coffee, swirling the contents around thoughtfully. Sometimes he couldn’t remember their faces. It had been so long ago and he had nothing to remember them by. But there were times in his dreams when they all came back to him, as if it was yesterday, and he would wake expecting to find himself in his old bed, in the room he shared all those years ago.

Another Thanksgiving had come around and he was glad in some ways that his folks were not alive to see him. He knew they would not have approved of the life he had chosen, although he suspected things would have turned out a lot different, if the raiders hadn’t turned up that day. He didn’t have a lot to be thankful for, for many years after that.

And what about now? They were still on the run, the amnesty no nearer and… a cough pulled him from his reverie. Kid looked at the figure hidden beneath a blanket on the other side of the fire. The coughing started again. Getting to his feet, Kid made his way to his partner’s side.

“Heyes?”

Dark hair, plastered to a sweat covered forehead, appeared from under the blanket. Heyes shivered. He was about to say something when his body was wracked by another bout of coughing. Kid reached out a hand and placed it on Heyes’ brow. He was burning up. Kid picked up a cup beside his friend.

“Here, have some water.” Kid supported Heyes, as he took several small sips.

“What time is it?” Heyes asked, turning red rimmed eyes on his friend.

“After midnight.”

“Why you still up?”

“Oh, keeping an eye on you and thinking.”

“I thought we had an agree…” Heyes’ words were cut off by more coughing. He took time to catch his breath. He had been like this for two days now and the cough was getting worse.

“Try and get some sleep,” Kid advised. “Maybe tomorrow you’ll be well enough to ride and we can get to that doctor in Kinder Lake.”

Heyes’ reply was a shiver. He pulled the blanket closer and closed his eyes. Kid went back to the fire and added more wood. As he picked up the coffee pot, he glanced over his shoulder at his friend. Thanksgiving. Right now he’d be grateful if Heyes made it through the night.

***

Kid looked back at his partner as they rode through the trees. He was leading Heyes’ horse, the reins in one hand. Heyes held onto the saddle horn, his knuckles white. Kid had pushed him upright a couple of times as his friend began to slide sideways in the saddle. It was all the dark-haired man could do to stay on his horse. He wasn’t coughing as much but the silence from the usually verbose man was equally troubling. Kid breathed a sigh of relief when the small town of Kinder Lake came into view.

“Heyes, I can see the town,” Kid called over his shoulder. A dark head rose and two red eyes peered into the distance.

“S’good,” he managed to say and then his eyes closed once more. Kid urged the horses on.

***

Kid pulled the horses to a halt in front of the hotel. They had not passed the sheriff’s office, so he had no idea who the lawman was but at that moment he didn’t care. His main concern was getting a bed for Heyes and finding a doctor. Dropping from the saddle he turned to help his partner down. He watched as, with great effort, Heyes swung his leg over the back over the horse and lowered himself to the ground. His knees buckled when his feet hit the dirt. Kid caught him, leaning his friend against the horse. Heyes looked at Kid through bleary eyes. His face was pale and drawn. Allowing Heyes to fall forward, Kid stooped down and lifted his partner onto his shoulder. Heyes groaned as Kid adjusted his weight.

“What you doin’?”

“Carrying you.”

“Put me down. I can walk.”

“Sure you can.”

“I can walk.”

“I believe you. It was standing up you were having problems with.”

“Where we going?

“The hotel. We’ll get you a bed, then I’ll go and find a doctor. Does that sound okay?”

“I guess,” came the reply, before Heyes was consumed by another bout of coughing. Kid headed up the steps and into the building. The owner looked up when the young blond cowboy entered the hotel with a man over his shoulder.

“I need a room with two beds,” the blond man said. “At the front of the hotel if possible.”

“Is he sick?” The owner looked at Heyes with concern.

“Bad cold. D’you have a room?”

“You here for Thanksgiving?”

“Not particularly. Have you got a room?”

“Room four. Up the stairs, second on the left.” He disclosed the price and one night’s fee was demanded in advance. Kid reached into his vest pocket, tossed a couple of coins onto the counter. “You sure it’s just a cold?”

“Yeah.” Kid picked up the key. “Thanks.” The man over his shoulder gave a cough. “Is there a doctor in town?” Kid asked.

The owner looked suspiciously at the dark-haired man, not convinced it was just a bad cold.

“Dr Boot lives along the street, the last house on the right.” Thanking him, Kid headed for the stairs.

“Here you go partner,” Kid said as he eased Heyes off his shoulder and onto the bed. Heyes mumbled something but Kid couldn’t work out what he said. Kid helped his friend out of his coat, took off his hat and placed it on the table. He removed Heyes’ gun belt and hung it on the bedpost.

“Thanks,” Heyes muttered as Kid pulled off his boots and covered him with a blanket.

“You’re welcome.”

“Is Lom here yet?” Heyes asked.

“What?”

“We need more dynamite.” Kid placed a hand on Heyes’ forehead. He was still running a fever.

“Heyes, I’m going to find a doctor for you. Do you understand?”

“Doctor.”

“That’s right. So don’t go anywhere okay?”

“Okay.”

Heyes’ eyes were closed. With a look back at his friend, Kid headed out the door.

***

A wind blowing along Main Street whipped up dust, swirling it around the few people out on the street. Kid walked along the boardwalk then stopped opposite a building with the word ‘Jail’ painted on a board above the door. Below, burned into the wood, was a name, Sheriff J.T.Falconer. Kid considered this. He couldn’t remember encountering anyone by that name. Hopefully the sheriff didn’t know them by sight either. Kid continued on towards the last house on the right. A sign swinging in the breeze next to a white picket fence announced this to be the dwelling of Dr Henry Boot. Kid pushed open the gate and walked up to the door. He knocked three times and waited. There was movement inside the house and then the door was opened by a small, grey-haired lady with a kind, round face.

“Hello,” she said.

Kid removed his hat.

“Is the doctor home ma’am?”

“He is. Do you need his help?”

“Yes ma’am, I do. Well, my friend does.”

“Come in young man and I’ll get him for you.”

Kid wiped his boots on the mat outside the door and entered the house. He was ushered into the front parlour. The woman disappeared and returned a few moments later with a tall, grey-haired man, in his fifties.

“Hello, I’m Henry Boot. How can I help?” he asked cheerfully.

“Pleased to meet you sir, my name’s Thaddeus Jones.” Kid held out his hand and the doctor shook it. “My friend’s at the hotel. He’s got a really bad cough and a fever. He’s had it for a few days.”

“Why didn’t he come here?”

“He’s pretty weak. I had to carry him into the hotel. I wondered if you’d come and take a look at him.”

“All right. Let me get my bag.”

***

Sweat covered Heyes’ forehead as Dr Boot stood beside the bed. He opened his bag, watching the young man as he searched inside it.

“How long has he been like this?”

“He’s had a cough for a few days. It’s been getting worse.” Kid stood at the foot of the bed, arms folded across his chest.

“The fever?”

“A couple of days.”

“Also getting worse?”

“Yes.”

The doctor felt the young man’s throat, looked into his eyes, and took his pulse. He rummaged in his bag for his stethoscope. Heyes mumbled as the doctor continued his examination. Placing the stethoscope in his ears, Dr. Boot held the other end under Heyes’ shirt, listening, his expression turned serious.

“Help me turn him onto his side. I need to put this on his back to listen to his lungs.”

Kid did as the doctor asked and they eased Heyes onto his side. The doctor listened intently.

“Governor…Tell Lom…Tryin’ hard,” Heyes mumbled.

“Do you know what he’s talking about?” Dr Boot asked, as he removed the stethoscope from his ears.

“No, he’s been talking nonsense mostly,” Kid lied, hoping Heyes wouldn’t mention the dynamite again or decide now was the time to describe the floor plan to the bank of Fort Worth. They laid Heyes on his back.

“Mr. Smith, can you hear me?” Heyes showed no sign that he did. The doctor turned to face Kid. “I’ll have Timothy send up a basin of cold water and some cloths.” He saw the questioning look on the blond man’s face. “He’s the hotel manager. Timothy Winslow. He’s gruff but has a good heart. See if you can get your friend’s temperature down. He needs to take more fluids. Try and get him to drink some water. I’ll have some powders sent over that should help him. I’ll write out the instructions for you.” He looked at Kid. “You can read?”

“Yes, Doc.”

“Good. I’ll stop by again in the morning to see how he is.”

“How serious is it?” Two worried blue eyes met the doctor’s.

“He has a chest infection. I think it’s just a very bad cold but if it stays on his chest, there’s a real danger it could turn to pneumonia. We’ll have to do our best to see that doesn’t happen.” He patted Kid on the arm and headed for the door.

“Doc, what do I owe you?” Kid asked.

“We’ll settle that when he’s better,” the grey-haired man said with a smile. “And you need to get some rest too, you look worn out. When did you last get some sleep young man?”

“I’ve grabbed an hour or so.”

“Well your friend is in a warm bed, and you’ve done your best for him. Now you need to take care of yourself or you’ll be no help at all.”

“I will Doc, and thanks.” When the doctor had left, Kid turned back to his friend. Two brown eyes stared up at him.

“What’s going on?” Heyes asked, weakly. “Who was that? Was it Lom?”

“The doctor. He just took a look at you.”

“Am I gonna be okay?”

“Yeah. You just need to rest and drink water.” There was a small jug on the stand beside the bed and Kid poured some water from it into a glass. “Here.” He helped Heyes raise his head from the pillow, holding the glass as he took a few sips. After swallowing some, Heyes dissolved into a bout of coughing again. His eyes closed.

A few minutes later, a knock at the door heralded the arrival of the basin of water and cloths. Kid took it from the maid, carrying it carefully to the bedside stand. He sat on the bed next to his friend and set about wiping the sweat from Heyes’ face.

“You’re not the prettiest nurse I’ve ever had,” Heyes told him, sleepily.

“Don’t start complaining,” Kid warned, good-naturedly.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“I know.”

“Thanks, Kid.”

Kid laid the cloth across Heyes’ forehead. After a while Heyes felt cooler. Kid dropped the cloth in the basin and moved to sit on the edge of the other bed. He suddenly felt extremely tired. Heyes appeared to be sleeping. Kid settled back on the bed, planning only to close his eyes for a moment. Not long after his head hit the soft pillow he was sound asleep.

***

The sound of gunshots woke Kid Curry with a start. He sat bolt upright, pulled his gun from his holster and moved quickly to the window. It was dark outside, the street below lit only by the lamplight shining from the windows of the buildings. A man stood in the middle of the street, his gun drawn. He fired three shots into the air. It wasn’t difficult to tell, from the way he staggered about, that he was drunk. A moment later a man with a badge pinned to his chest walked up to him. Words were exchanged and the man was relieved of his weapon. The sheriff took him by the arm and marched him away, presumably towards the jail. Kid relaxed and replaced his gun in its holster. He didn’t recognise the lawman. He turned away from the window and looked across at the other bed. Heyes’ eyes were open.

“Somethin’ wrong?” he asked, then shivered.

“Just a drunk,” Kid explained. He moved to his friend’s side. “How you feeling?”

“I ache all over. Did I get trampled by a herd of buffalo?”

“Not that I remember.”

“Was there someone here?”

“The doctor, but that was a while ago.”

“What about Lom? Was he here?”

“No, you’ve been dreaming.”

“Oh.” Heyes’ eyes narrowed. “Where are we?”

“The hotel in Kinder Lake.” Kid placed his hand on Heyes’ forehead. He was still very warm. Heyes’ eyes closed again.

“Let me know when you want us to ride out.”

“Sure, Heyes.”

A knock at the door, startled Kid and he reached for his gun again. He relaxed when he saw the same maid standing there. She was a pretty girl; about sixteen years old with dark hair tied neatly back from her face. She smiled and held out the powders the doctor had sent over. Thanking her, Kid took the packet and the sheet of paper she gave him, over to his bed. He sat up, turned up the lamp to read the doctor’s instructions, and then added some of the powders to a glass of water.

“Heyes.” Kid shook his friend by the arm. “Heyes.” Two brown eyes opened. “You hafta drink this.” Kid held up the glass.

“What is it?” Heyes asked, weakly.

“Medicine. The doctor sent it for you. It’ll make you feel better.” Kid placed a hand behind Heyes’ neck, supporting him, as he sipped the liquid. Heyes screwed up his face.

“That’s disgusting!”

“Come on, drink it all.”

“No!”

“Heyes, drink it. It’s good for you.”

“It doesn’t taste like it.”

“It is, trust me.”

“Then you drink it!”

“Heyes!”

“No! I feel bad enough without you making me drink that stuff.”

“Drink it!”

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll force you to.” Two blue eyes fixed on Heyes.

“Ha!” Heyes’ eyes were only half open. “I could take you…take you anytime. One hand behind my back.” Kid shook his head in disbelief.

“Just drink it will you!”

Heyes took another mouthful. Again he grimaced. Kid kept the glass close to his friend’s mouth. Heyes turned his face away.

“Finish it!” Kid commanded. Heyes tried to glare at him but it required too much effort. Instead he took a final swallow of whatever it was the doctor had sent, and then lay back on the pillow.

“I don’t think I like you anymore,” he muttered, petulantly. Kid smiled and sat back on his bed. He glanced at his watch. It was just 8pm. It was going to be a long night.

***

The doctor’s instructions for Kid to get some sleep were thwarted again when a sound woke Kid in the early hours of the morning. He looked across at his friend in the darkness.

“Heyes?”

The only reply was an ominous rasp. Kid got out of bed and lit the lamp. Heyes was still asleep but he was struggling for breath. Kid moved quickly to his side. Each breath the dark-haired man took was laboured, each intake of air sounded like a desperate gasp for life.

“Heyes?” Kid could not hide the worry in his voice. He placed a hand on his forehead. He was cooler but… He shook his friend by the shoulder but there was no response. He didn’t like this one bit. He had to get help. Quickly, he pulled on his clothes.

Kid descended the stairs two at a time. At the reception desk he hit the bell repeatedly until the door behind the desk opened. Timothy Winslow came out, tying the cord on his robe. What was left of his hair was ruffled and he did not look pleased at being roused from his bed in the middle of the night.

“What is it?” he snapped.

“I need you to send someone for the doctor. Now!” Kid told him.

“It’s the middle of the night, Mr Jones. He’ll…”

“Just do it! My friend’s really sick and if he dies because you wouldn’t get the doctor…” The manager swallowed as two ice blue eyes fixed on him. He was left in no doubt what would happen.

“I’ll go right away,” he assured the blond man. “But I don’t imagine Henry will be too pleased about this.”

“Just tell him my friend can’t breathe!” Kid turned and headed back to his room.

***

Heyes was still struggling for every breath when the doctor arrived. He moved swiftly to the bed side and pulled his stethoscope from his bag.

“He was much better after he drank that medicine you sent over,” Kid explained. “He seemed okay and fell asleep.”

“How long has he been like this?”

“I don’t know. When I woke up, I could hear his breathing.” Kid stood at the end of the bed, watching anxiously.

Dr Boot listened to Heyes’ chest once more. When he had finished his examination he faced Kid.

“It’s not good is it?” Kid asked.

“The congestion is worse. I’ll prepare a hot poultice and I want him to inhale some steam. If you get Timothy, I’ll let him know what I need.”

Kid did as he was asked and a few minutes later returned to the room with Mr. Winslow. The doctor gave him a list of things he needed and the manager left, returning later with a jug of steaming hot water and some items in packages. Kid stood watching as the doctor went about his work. He felt useless. A bullet wound he knew about; knew what you had to do; what signs to look for; how long it could take to heal. This was something different and it scared him.

The doctor beckoned to Kid.

“I’m going to need your help to support him.”

Between them they managed to get Heyes to sit up in bed. As Kid supported the sick man, the doctor held Heyes’ head over a basin of steaming water to which he had added pungent oils. A towel covered Heyes’ head and the basin. Kid had no idea what the doctor had added to the water but it sure cleared his head. His eyes were beginning to water by the time the doctor decided Heyes had had enough. They lay the dark-haired man back down. Heyes did seem to be breathing easier.

Kid watched as the doctor began mixing something in a metal basin. He pulled back the sheets.

“Help me get this Henley off him,” he said. When they had removed it, Dr Boot applied a thick, hot poultice to Heyes’ chest. Whatever the sticky mess smeared on his friend was, it certainly smelled disgusting. Heyes moved and tried to turn away. The doctor placed a hand firmly on his shoulder to keep him still, as he worked. When he was finished Dr Boot covered the poultice with a piece of cloth. He explained that it would help to draw out the infection. Kid hoped the stuff would wash off or, when he was better, Heyes was going to be riding down wind for a while.

Before dawn broke, the doctor left, heading home to get some sleep. He promised to return later. Kid sat for a while watching Heyes and taking comfort from every rise and fall of his poultice covered body and the easier way he was breathing. The smell sparked some long forgotten memory. Finally collapsing on the bed, Kid lay listening to his friend breathe. He closed his eyes.

***

The coughing woke the young dark-haired boy. He listened in the darkness. The cough came again, deep and congested, and a desperate gasp for breath followed it. Throwing back the blankets Hannibal Heyes swung his legs over the side of the top bunk and dropped to the floor. There was another chesty cough.

“Jed?” Han looked at the young, blond boy in the bunk beneath his. His hair was plastered to his damp forehead. “Jed?”

“Han?” Cough, cough. Two blue eyes opened.

“You okay?”

“I’m hot.”

Han placed a hand on his friend’s forehead. He frowned.

“D’you want a drink of water?”

“No.” Cough, cough. “I wish my Ma was here.” Han’s breath caught in his throat.

“Yeah, me too.”

“I sure do miss her.”

“I know.”

Another bout of coughing overwhelmed Jed.

“Am I dying?” he gasped.

“No!” Han protested.

“It feels like I am. I don’t think I’ve ever felt…” Cough, cough, cough. “Ever felt so bad. I can’t…” Cough, cough. “Can’t breathe.”

“You’re gonna be fine. D’you hear me?” Two hopeful blue eyes fixed on Han’s. “You’ll be just fine.”

“If you say so,” Jed agreed, weakly.

“I do say so. You trust me don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Is he okay?” a voice asked. Han turned to the boy in the bed beside Jed’s.

“He’ll be fine, Billy.” Han did his best to sound confident. He reached up and pulled a blanket from his bunk. Wrapping it around himself he sat on the floor between the bunks. “I’ll be here if you need me, Jed.”

“Thanks,” a weak voice said before the boy dissolved into a coughing fit again.

Kid opened his eyes and looked up at the cracked ceiling. That had been a long time ago. He hadn’t been fine; at least not then. Han had stayed on the cold floor all night. He was asleep under the bunk when they found him the next morning. Someone had carried the small, blond boy to the infirmary. A minister and the doctor had been sent for. No one was sure which man would be needed the most. It was almost a week before anyone knew if Jed would survive. Young Hannibal had been allowed to visit for just a few minutes each day. The smell of the poultice had brought it all back to Kid. They had applied something similar to his chest and back. He remembered the heat and the smell; remembered Han at his bedside; remembered how much he had missed his family. Kid shook the thoughts from his mind. That was another time; a lifetime ago…but even then Heyes had been there for him.

***

Kid sat with Heyes all the next day and night, leaving the room only when nature deemed he had to. He sorted through his saddle bags and repacked them, which didn’t take long. He cleaned his gun. He cleaned Heyes’ gun. Then he cleaned his gun again. The doctor returned as promised. He listened to Heyes’ chest, prescribed more of his powders and reapplied the poultice. On his way out of the hotel, Dr. Boot arranged for some food, coffee and a newspaper to be sent up to Mr Jones. Despite his legendary appetite Kid only pecked at the food, pushing it around on the plate. Having someone gasping for breath beside you wasn’t exactly conducive to eating. Especially if it was someone you cared about.

Kid managed to get Heyes to drink some more of the doctor’s powders, which had certainly helped reduce his temperature but for most of the time, Heyes was asleep. Kid sat in a chair by the window watching the townsfolk going about their business. He amused himself for a while, trying to guess the purpose of their visit to the General Store or identify each man’s occupation.

As night fell, Heyes breathing was steady and less laboured. Kid lay back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes not expecting to get much sleep.

***

A groaning sound woke Kid from a dream. For once it was a particularly pleasant dream, involving a pretty young woman named…but the dream had already faded. He turned over and saw Heyes sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at the floor.

“Heyes? You all right?” he asked, trying to wake himself up.

His partner looked up at him.

“We have to get going,” Heyes announced; his eyes unfocused. Kid threw back the bedclothes and sat up.

“Where you planning on going?” he asked, gently, as he lit the lamp.

“We hafta leave town.” Heyes looked up. “The posse.”

“D’you think you’re up to riding?” Kid humoured.

Heyes looked at his bare feet.

“I don’t know where my boots are.”

Kid could see them under the bed.

“Heyes, you’re in no state to stand up, let alone ride out.”

“I’m fine.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. C’mon, let’s go.” He made no move to stand. “Wheat and the boys’ll be waitin’.” Heyes took a deep gulp of air.

“Heyes…”

“Come on.” Heyes tried to stand, but didn’t have the strength to ease himself off the edge of the bed.

“D’you need a hand?” Kid asked, as he stood up.

“No, I can do his.” Heyes tried again without success. Kid placed one finger on his friend’s shoulder and pushed. Heyes fell backwards. Kid caught hold of his ankles and swung him back into bed.

“I can do this,” Heyes protested, weakly.

“Sure Heyes. I know you can.” Kid pulled the covers over him. “As soon as you can make it to the door on your own, I’ll know you’re ready to leave.”

“Okay…that’s a good deal…” Heyes muttered. “What about the posse?”

“Wheat and Kyle have led them away.”

“Good for them.” He closed his eyes and his breathing soon hit the steady rhythm of sleep. Kid sat back on his bed.

He smiled. At least Heyes was breathing better, that was something good. It looked like the doctor’s poultice had worked.

***
The sound of a several wagons rolling past the hotel, woke Kid later that morning. Sunlight streamed through the window. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and yawned. He threw back the bedclothes and swung his legs out of bed. Sitting on the edge of the bed he looked at the floor. He could use a cup of coffee. Heck he’d even settle for one of Heyes’ coffees. Kid gave another yawn, wondering what the time was. He looked across at the other bed and was startled to find two brown eyes staring back at him.

“Mornin’,” Heyes said and smiled.

Kid smiled.

“Mornin’. How you feeling?”

“Like I’ve got a bear sitting on my chest, but much better than I did.”

“That’s good. About you feeling better, not the bear.”

Heyes’ eyes narrowed.

“Are you growing a beard?”

Kid touched the stubble on his face and smiled.

“No. I just haven’t got around to shaving.” He scratched his chin.

“For how many days?”

“Well I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what?”

Kid considered this.

“Nothing important.”

Heyes saw something in his friend’s eyes.

“I had you worried huh?”

Kid looked up, and then looked away again.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

With considerable effort, Heyes eased himself up on the pillow and noticed the strange sticky substance smeared on his chest.

“What the heck is this?”

Kid smiled.

“A poultice. The doctor put it on you.”

“It smells disgusting.”

“Yeah, well so do you, now.”

Heyes shot him a look.

“What’s in it?”

“I didn’t ask, but I think it worked.” Kid yawned and rubbed his eyes. Heyes studied him.

“You look like you need a bath and a shave.”

“Says the man covered in a skunk poultice.”

Heyes eyes opened wide with horror.

“It’s not…?”

“No,” Kid assured him with a smile. “I think it’s mustard and stuff like that.”

Heyes looked relieved. He touched his chin, feeling the stubble there. He looked at his friend, noticing the dark circles beneath his eyes.

“Have you eaten?”

“I’ve been asleep Heyes.”

“I meant before that. When did you last eat, you look awful?”

“Well, I’ve been looking after you.”

Heyes smiled.

“Thanks.”

Kid looked up, studying his friend.

“You don’t think Kyle and Wheat are here do you?”

“No. Why should they be?”

“No. What about Lom?”

“What about him?”

“Where is he?”

“Porterville. What is this Kid?”

“You’ve just been a little…confused lately. I’m just checking, that’s all.”

“How am I doing?”

“You passed.”

“Why don’t you go get a bath and something to eat?” Heyes suggested.

“Will you be all right if I do? You’re not gonna try to go anywhere are you?”

“No. I’ll just lie here and count the cracks in the ceiling.” He looked up.

“I’ll be as quick as I can.” Kid got up and began to dress.

“No rush. It looks like there are a lot of cracks.”

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Heyes.”

“Me too.”

A few minutes later, dressed, complete with gun belt, Kid placed his hat on his head and turned towards the door. As he did so Heyes was consumed by a bout of coughing. Kid froze, turning worried eyes back to his friend.

“Maybe I should wait a while.”

“What for?”

Kid didn’t reply and Heyes understood.

“Go on. I’ll be fine,” Heyes assured him when the coughing had stopped.

“You’re sure?”

“Go!”

***

The warm bath water felt good on his tired muscles. Kid ducked his head beneath the surface, then brushed the wet hair from his face and sat back in the tub. He closed his eyes and sighed. It had been a tough few days but at last Heyes was on the mend. Maybe now he could relax.

The barber entered the back room carrying a bucket filled with steaming water. When Kid nodded, he poured it into the bath. Kid thanked him, enjoying the feel of the hot water flowing around him. After a while Kid reached for the soap.

Refreshed from the hot bath and a shave, Kid had a spring in his step as he left the barber’s shop. He placed his hat on his head, and then stepped off the boardwalk into the street, heading for the cafeteria. He smiled, cordially, at two ladies looking in his direction and touched the brim of his hat.

“Oh my goodness, I know who that is!” Margery Lansdown, the bank manager’s wife, whispered as she watched Kid walk across the street.

“Who is he?” her friend Julia Fraser asked; her eyes on the handsome, blond man as he entered the cafeteria. She might be the minister’s wife but that didn’t stop her…appreciating.

“That man’s an outlaw.”

“An outlaw?” Julia was shocked. “Which outlaw?”

“We have to tell the sheriff. Come on Julia.” Without another word Margery headed along the boardwalk towards the jail. Julia gave the cafeteria door a worried look. Such a good looking young man. She turned to follow her friend.

***

In the cafeteria, Kid made the acquaintance of Phoebe, the attractive, young waitress. By the time his breakfast had arrived, Kid had been invited to join her at the Sunday Social. He disappointed her when he told her that he would probably not be there as his friend was sick. However, Phoebe saw it as a positive sign that Thaddeus would still be in town. She was not a woman to give up that easily. Phoebe smoothed down her apron and headed back to his table.

“More coffee, Thaddeus?” She smiled.

“Thank you Phoebe.” She received a smile in return.

Yes, she thought, there was still hope.

With a stomach full of a fine breakfast, washed down by several cups of Phoebe’s excellent coffee, Kid pushed back his chair and stood up. He picked up his hat from the hook beside the door and placed it on his head. Heyes was better, his own stomach was full. Yep, things were looking up. He gave Phoebe a wink as he bid her good day and stepped out onto the boardwalk.

“Hold it right there!” a man’s voice cried and there was the sounds of numerous rifles being cocked and the hammers being drawn back on six guns. Kid froze. Standing in front of him was a man with a star pinned to his chest and a gun pointed straight at him. There were men approaching on both sides and four more standing behind the sheriff, guns and rifles aimed in his direction. “Get your hands up, son.”

Keeping his eyes on the sheriff, and making no sudden movements, Kid slowly raised his hands above his head.

“What’s going on?”

“You’re under arrest. Don’t move a muscle, or we’ll shoot.”

Kid had no reason to disbelieve him. “Bradley, get his gun.” A nervous young man, with a Deputy’s badge on his shirt, walked towards Kid. Two ice blue eyes fixed on the young man making him hesitate before reaching forward and removing Kid’s Colt from his holster. The men around him looked nervous and he wasn’t about to risk doing anything that might cause their fingers to twitch on the trigger.

“What am I being arrested for?” Kid’s eyes scanned the men watching him.

“You know full well what for.” The sheriff approached him.

“No, I don’t.” Kid stated.

The sheriff removed some handcuffs from his pocket.

“Turn around,” he instructed. Reluctantly, Kid did as asked. Putting his hands behind his back he felt the familiar metal rings around his wrists and heard the snap as the cuffs closed.

“Sheriff what do you think I’ve done?”

“We both know you’re a wanted man.” Kid was stunned into silence by the revelation. “Move!” The lawman gave him a push in the direction of the jail.

“Look, I think you have me mistaken for someone else,” Kid protested as he saw the Jail looming closer. An informal armed escort followed them.

“I doubt it,” the lawman told him confidently. “You’re tall, blond and a stranger in town. That fits the description I was given.”

“For what?” Kid asked angrily, turning, to face him and several rifles were suddenly pointed at him. He calmed down. “I can’t be the only blond stranger in town.”

“I don’t see any others.”

“You can’t arrest me just because of the colour of my hair!”

“I’m not! Get moving.”

“Will you just humour me and tell me what you’re convinced I’ve done?”

“Robbing banks from what I heard.”

The men behind the sheriff looked on sternly; some nodded. Kid didn’t know what to say. The sheriff shoved him forward. Bradley rushed ahead and opened the door to the jail and Kid was ushered inside. The sheriff waved his gun towards the cells. Obediently Kid walked towards them.

“Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?” Kid asked, flippantly.

“That’s for the judge to decide. I just lock ‘em up until the provin’ gets done.” The cell door was open and Kid stepped inside. Bradley followed him, removed Kid’s gun belt and then undid the handcuffs. Kid stood silently, almost resigned to his fate. The cell door was closed and locked. The sheriff looked at Kid.

“You got anyone you want informed about you being here?”

“My friend is over at the hotel. He’s been really sick. The doctor‘s been treating him. Could you have someone look in on him? See he’s okay and tell him where I am?”

“Sure. I meant any family you wanted informed.”

“Just my friend.”

“All right. What’s his name?”

Kid smiled and resisted the urge to say, “Yep that’s him.”

“Joshua Smith,” he replied.

The sheriff walked over to his desk and scribbled something on a piece of paper.

“Bradley, go over to the hotel and see that Mr. Smith gets this message so he knows his friend is here.” The deputy took the note and left the office. Kid let out a long sigh at his all too familiar predicament. He put his hands around the bars.

“Sheriff, who identified me?”

“A respectable member of our community recognised you Mr. Golden. They were in a bank you robbed sometime ago.”

Kid sat down on the bunk. Then a thought struck him. He was swiftly on his feet.

“What did you call me?”

“I’m going to telegraph Judge Stewart and get him to come on over from Deer Creek.” The sheriff looked at Kid. “You behave yourself while I’m gone.”

“Sheriff, wait!”

Ignoring him, Sheriff Falconer headed towards the door.

“Sheriff, what did you call me? Who do you think I am?” The outer door closed behind the man. “Damn it!”

***

Counting the ceiling cracks proved to be a monotonous task. Heyes gave up at one hundred and fifty three, and then started looking for patterns as you might with cloud formations. There was one that looked like a duck and another could be a face…eventually Heyes dozed for a while but now he was wide awake and getting bored just lying there. Throwing back the bedclothes, he swung his legs out of bed and sat on the edge. He felt dizzy and took a moment to get his balance before trying to stand. The room kept moving. Heyes grabbed the bedpost. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. His legs were wobbly but he made it across the room to the chest of drawers. Heyes caught sight of himself in the mirror. Sheesh! He looked gaunt despite the growth of stubble. There were dark circles beneath his eyes. His hair looked a mess. He looked as bad as he felt, maybe worse.

With great effort, Heyes lifted the jug and poured some water into the basin. He began to wash the poultice off his body. He wasn’t having a lot of success and by the time he was half done he had a basin full of grey, gloopy water and needed to sit down again. He didn’t have the strength to finish the job. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so weak.

There was a commotion in the street and Heyes managed to get to the window. Leaning on the wall he saw a crowd gathered outside the jail. A momentary wave of concern swept over him. Kid wasn’t there and…but no it couldn’t have anything to do with his partner. Could it?

There was a knock at the door. Heyes’ tensed. His eyes shot to the lock. There was a key in it but was it locked? His gun was in his gun belt hanging on the far bedpost. He would never reach it in time. The door handle turned and the door opened. A tall grey-haired man walked in, he smiled when he saw Heyes.

“Mr Smith! What are you doing out of bed? Well, I guess I don’t need to ask if you’re feeling better.” Dr. Boot smiled and then saw Heyes’ look of confusion. “I’m Doctor Henry Boot. We met earlier but I take it you don’t remember that?”

Heyes shook his head. The doctor looked at the remains of the poultice stuck to Heyes’ chest.

“I’ll have them send up some hot water for you to get that off. At least I know the old magic still works.”

“I’m sorry Doc, things are a little fuzzy at the moment,” Heyes apologised. “I don’t…”

“It’s to be expected. Mr. Jones has been very concerned about you.”

“He’s like that.”

“It’s just as well. You’ve been very unwell Mr. Smith. Congested lungs can be dangerous. How do you feel now?”

“Weak.”

“You will be. I don’t imagine you’ll feel up to much for a few days. Rest is the best thing for you until you get your strength back.” The doctor removed his stethoscope from his bag. “While I’m here I may as well check you over.” He ushered Heyes to the bed. The dark-haired man sat down heavily.

“There was a crowd gathered outside,” Heyes stated.

“Yes, the sheriff’s caught an outlaw.” The doctor placed the stethoscope on Heyes’ chest, trying to avoid the remainder of the poultice.

“An outlaw?” Heyes tried to sound casual.

“Yes.”

“Any idea who?”

“Well, a famous one apparently.”

“Doc, would you be able to find out who it is?”

“Yes, but why are you interested?”

“Professional curiosity, you might say.”

“All right, I’ll ask. Now shh.”

Heyes was quiet, but he knew his heart must be beating fast with his concern.

“Take a deep breath in please.”

Heyes did as he was asked. The doctor pressed the metal disc against his chest and listened.

“I thought Mr. Jones would be here,” he said, after a moment. The doctor moved the stethoscope to Heyes’ back.

“He went to get a bath and a shave. He looked…”

“Shh. Deep breath.”

Heyes complied.

“Again.”

“He’s been gone a long time. I just…”

“Shh. Deep breath in. Hold it. And a deep breath out.” Henry Boot removed the stethoscope from his ears and began to pack it away. “Your lungs are much clearer. I think you’re going to be fine.”

“That’s good to hear, Doc, thanks.”

“I imagine Mr. Jones will be pleased too. If I see him, I’ll tell him to get back here. He still has a patient to keep an eye on.”

“If he’s having breakfast don’t rush him. It’s not wise to approach while he’s eating.”

The doctor smiled.

“I’ll remember that. I’ll call back later. Rest as much as you can Mr. Smith. Don’t expect too much of yourself.”

“Thanks, Doc and…”

“I’ll find out, I promise.”

“Thank you.”

He bid Heyes good day and left. Heyes stood up slowly and went over to the window, watching the street below. An outlaw. It couldn’t be, could it? He sure hoped not. A wave of fatigue came over him. Heyes returned to his bed and lay back down and closed his eyes.

***

A knocking sound woke Heyes. Opening his eyes he realised it was someone at the door. He made his way, unsteadily across the room and found a young maid outside, holding a bucket of hot water.

“The doctor asked for this to be brought to you,” the girl said. Heyes ushered her into the room. She placed the bucket on the floor and looked at the soggy mess in the basin. “I’ll get rid of this for you.” She glanced at Heyes’ chest. “Would you like a bath sent up, sir?”

“Maybe later,” he told her with a smile. He sat and waited until she returned with the empty basin and then set about cleaning himself up. Kid was not back by the time Heyes had finished. His partner’s absence was making him uneasy.

There was another knock at the door. Heyes opened it to see the same maid standing there.

“Hello again,” he said, giving her a friendly smile and she blushed.

“The sheriff sent this for you.” A vice like grip clamped around Heyes’ throat as she held out a piece of paper towards him. Thanking her he took the paper. Heyes closed the door and leaned against it. Unfolding the paper he read the note.

Your friend is in jail and wanted you to know.

Sheriff Falconer.

Heyes closed his eyes and rested his head back against the door.

***

Sheriff Falconer sat at his desk writing something in a notebook. Deputy Bradley Mills was sitting across the room, his chair tilted back on two legs, his feet propped up on the desk as he read a dime novel, The Legend of the Silver Mine Kid. Kid Curry sat on the bunk, elbows resting on his knees, his head in his hands, eyes closed. He’d been identified by someone in town as the bank robber Golden Eddie, a man he’d never heard of. If he couldn’t prove otherwise he was going to be tried and sentenced in Kinder Lake just as soon as the judge could get there. Heyes was not going to be happy but then his partner was lying sick in bed and would be unable to help. He was in trouble. Maybe he should send for Lom.

Kid heard the main door to the office open and someone enter. He didn’t bother to look up, having gotten used to the stream of people arriving on some spurious errand when all they really wanted was to take a look at the infamous, Golden Eddie. Footsteps approached the sheriff’s desk. A smell Kid recognised drifted across the room.

“Sheriff, I’d like to see my friend,” a familiar voice said. Kid pushed his hat off his face and looked up. He was swiftly on his feet.

“Joshua! What are you doing here?”

Heyes gave his friend a reassuring smile.

“Are you Mr. Smith?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes.”

“The Doc told me about you. He said you’ve been sick.” He sniffed. What was that smell?

“I was. Can I see my friend?”

“Sure. Just leave your gun belt here.” Heyes began to unbuckle his gun belt. Kid watched him, searching his face to see how well he really was. Deputy Mills watched him too.

Heyes approached the cell. Only Kid knew how much effort it was taking him.

“You all right?” Kid asked.

“I was about to ask you the same thing.” The dark-haired man placed a hand on the bars for support. He looked exhausted; his face was pale and covered in a fine sheen of sweat.

“You should be in bed.”

Heyes didn’t look as though he could remain standing for long.

“I know, but when I heard that you were in jail I just had to see it for myself. Can’t you stay out of trouble for five minutes?”

Kid rested his head against the bars.

“I guess not. They think I’m a bank robber.”

“Imagine that.”

“A famous outlaw.”

“Anyone we know? Not what’s his name?”

“No. Not the other fella either.” Heyes smiled. “Someone called Golden Eddie. D’you ever hear of him?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

“Well he can’t be that famous then. He just rob banks?”

“No. Also lewd behaviour, whatever that is.”

“Hmm, that’s not like you.”

“I’m told he’s successful with the ladies.”

“Well then they’ve definitely got the wrong man!” Heyes gave his friend an innocent smile. Kid didn’t respond to that.

“Someone in town identified me.”

“D’you know who?”

“No.”

The sheriff approached the cells.

“Everything all right?” he asked, clearly hoping to hear some of their conversation.

“My friend isn’t who you think he is,” Heyes told him.

“He was identified as the bank robber, Eddie Golden, also known as Golden Eddie.”

“By who?”

“A respectable witness.”

“Respectable doesn’t mean reliable,” Heyes pointed out.

“He sure fits the description on the wanted poster. Tall. Blond, curly hair. Blue eyes.” He pointed to the wanted poster pinned to the notice board. Kid and Heyes did their best not to react to their own posters stuck up beside it.

“A lot of men look like that,” Heyes remarked.

“But my witness didn’t point to a lot of men, just your friend.”

“If you contact Sheriff Lom Trevors of Porterville Wyoming…” Heyes began.

“I don’t need to contact no sheriff. I got the judge coming from Deer Creek.”

“Sheriff Trevors can vouch for my friend,” Heyes insisted.

“Well maybe he’ll be called for the trial.”

Kid and Heyes exchanged an exasperated look. Suddenly, the room appeared to be spinning and Heyes grabbed hold of the bars.

“You all right?” Kid asked. Heyes didn’t reply. He closed his eyes and hung on. “Sheriff! My friend needs help.”

Falconer saw how pale Heyes had become and was swiftly at his side.

“Let’s get you to a chair, son,” he said, helpfully. Kid could only watch as the lawman sat Heyes down. “Bradley get Mr. Smith some water.” Bradley poured water from a jug into a metal cup. He handed it to Heyes who thanked him and took a few sips. The sheriff eyed him cautiously, in case it was some sort of trick. J.T Falconer was nobody’s fool.

“I’ll be all right,” Heyes assured them.

“Sheriff he shouldn’t be here. Can you take him back to the hotel?” Kid asked.

“I’m fine!” Heyes insisted. He gave Kid a reassuring smile. Kid was anything but convinced by it. “We need to get this sorted out.”

The young deputy whispered something in the sheriff’s ear.

“Oh that’s right! I’d forgotten that Bradley.” The sheriff turned to the young man in the cell. “There’s another way to identify Golden Eddie. It’s not on the old wanted posters. Bradley see if you can find the new one in the drawer.

The deputy went to the sheriff’s desk, opened the top drawer and began searching through a pile of wanted posters.

“Here it is, sheriff,” he announced, holding up a poster as he approached the cell. He scanned the description. “I remember he even flashed it at the ladies in the last job he did.”

“Flashed what?” Heyes and Kid chorused.

“Golden Eddie, late twenties,” the deputy read aloud. “Approximately six foot tall, blond, curly hair, blue eyes and…” The deputy looked at the sheriff and smiled. The sheriff read the rest of the description.

“What?” Kid asked, not sure that he really wanted to know.

“He has a tattoo,” the sheriff told him.

“A tattoo?” Heyes asked.

“Yes. A six-gun.”

“A Colt Peacemaker,” Bradley added, clearly in awe of the fact.

“I don’t have any tattoos,” Kid said, definitely.

“Well you won’t mind if we check?” the sheriff asked.

“Where’s the tattoo supposed to be?” Kid asked, again not really wanting to know.

“On his butt.” Bradley smiled as he told them.

Heyes sniggered. Kid gave a heavy sigh. Somehow he knew what was coming next.

“There’s only one way to find out if you’re as innocent as you say you are.” The sheriff looked Kid in the eye. “Drop ‘em.”

Heyes grinned at his embarrassed partner.

“You’ve gotta be kiddin’!” Kid exclaimed.

“It’s the only way to know for sure,” the sheriff told him. “So come on young fella, start unbuttoning.”

Kid looked to Heyes for help.

“Only way to know for sure,” Heyes said, helpfully.

“Which side?” Kid asked and the sheriff turned to Bradley, who consulted the poster.

“Left cheek,” the deputy informed them.

Kid looked from one man to the other. Nobody said anything. Finally, he pulled his shirt from his pants. He undid the buttons of his jeans then turned his back on them. With a heavy sigh, Kid lowered his pants and long johns; just enough to reveal a firm, left cheek. The main door to the office opened and Kid felt a cold draught as the sheriff and deputy took a closer look.

“Oh my!” a woman cried. All four men turned to see Margery Lansdown standing in the open doorway. She blushed as her eyes met Kid’s.

Kid turned swiftly away and pulled up his pants.

“Margery, you’re going to have to wait outside!” the sheriff yelled.

“Yes, yes of course,” she flustered and stepping back outside, closed the door.

“Bradley, you’d better go and explain to her.” The deputy headed for the door. “And tell her this isn’t Golden Eddie either.”

The sheriff turned his attention to Kid who was busy buttoning up his pants.

“I guess there’s been a mistake young fella. You’re free to go Mr. Jones.” He began to unlock the cell door.

Still sitting in the chair Heyes smiled at Kid.

“If you don’t quit smirkin’, sick or not, I’m gonna flatten you!” Kid told him, through gritted teeth.

***

Anxious to leave town before Sheriff Falconer or Bradley started looking too closely at their other wanted posters, the partners decided to take the stagecoach, the following afternoon, to Red Rock and visit Big Mac McCreedy. Heyes could sleep on the journey and then rest up some more at Big Mac’s.

Heyes was already seated when Kid climbed into the stage having seen that their bags were safely stowed up top. Kid sniffed the air. The smell of the poultice still hung around Heyes despite him taking a bath.

Heyes had continued to smirk at Kid since the embarrassing tattoo incident. Even now he smiled at his partner.

“Will you stop it!” Kid snapped. They were the only two passengers leaving Kinder Lake that day.

“Big Mac’s going to love this story about his nephew.”

“Heyes so help me…”

“Or maybe I should tell Lom?”

“Heyes!”

The dark-haired man scowled.

“You can be a real spoil sport sometime d’you know that?”

“Hmmph,” was Kid’s reply.

“You know Kid, I’ve been thinking.”

“Nothing new there then.”

“I could get a tattoo.”

“WHAT?” Dumbfounded Kid looked across at his partner.

“Maybe a hand of cards, with the ace on top.” He looked up at Kid. “What do you think?”

“I think you must still be sick.”

“You don’t think one would suit me?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“You want to get a tattoo?”

“If not cards, then maybe a small safe. A Pearce and Hamilton ’78 on my shoulder.” Heyes pointed to his left shoulder. “About here.”

Kid’s mouth had dropped open, in astonishment.

“Heyes, you’re joking right?”

“You could get one too.”

“A tattoo of a safe?”

“No, one like Golden Eddie. Heck you’re more entitled to a six-gun tattoo than anyone.”

“You want me to get a tattoo, too?”

“Well, it would show comradeship.”

Kid studied Heyes’ face. Slowly the dark-haired man’s cheeks dimpled and a smile broke out across his face.

“Sheesh, for a minute there I thought you were serious,” Kid said, as the coach gave a lurch and they were on their way.

THE END

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