Five Years Earlier

Five Years Earlier
By Maz McCoy

Kid Curry held his bandana against the cut over his left eye attempting to stop it bleeding. His eye was swollen shut and his head hurt like hell. He sat on the bunk, elbows resting on his knees trying not to throw up. At that moment his stomach rumbled reminding him that he hadn’t had a decent meal in days so there wasn’t likely to be much making a return visit any time soon. Kid sighed and that made his bruised ribs ache. He stared at the hard floor of the cell as the sheriff approached the bars.
“There ya go, son.” A metal plate with something resembling stew slid under the door stopping a foot away from him.
Kid looked at the steaming grey gloop and watched a fly land on the edge of the plate. How had things got this bad when not five years earlier…?

***
Hannibal Heyes pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears and hunkered down beside a barrel in the alleyway beside Olsen’s Mercantile. The pounding rain ran off his hat and he shivered as a cold drop of water hit the back of his neck. He was cold, hungry and tired. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep. He was the newest member of the gang and as such drew the short straw when it came to jobs the leader wanted doing.
“Watch the bank”, he had been instructed.
“When does it open?”
“Who opens up?”
“Where do they live?”
“How long does it take them to reach the bank?”
“How many guards are there?”
“How many tellers?”
On and on the list of questions went and it was Heyes’ job to get the answers, so he sat in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain waiting for someone to open the bank.
How had it got to this? He thought life in a gang would be exciting. When he’d worked with a team before it had been good. Why five years earlier…

***
“Are you gonna eat that?” Nathan asked, pointing with his fork at the potato on Heyes’ plate.
“No,” Heyes informed him.
Nathan stabbed the vegetable, shoved it in his mouth and ate it.
“You know it never ceases to amaze me how you can eat so much and stay as thin as you are,” Henry stated as he collected up the empty plates from around the table.
The men of the Bar T pushed back their chairs heading inevitably to their bunks, the outhouse, the coffee pot or for a smoke. Nathan sat at the table chewing his last mouthful. He grinned at Henry. “That was good, Henry. You’d make a fine wife.”
“Assumin’ looks ain’t important,” Gerard added and received a glare from the cook. “Now, me, I got an eye for a pretty lady.”
“Pity they don’t have an eye for you,” Marty muttered as he poured himself a coffee.
“Unless it’s One-Eyed Polly at the saloon,” Bill Napier added, holding out his cup so Marty could fill it too.
“Now there’s a woman with an eye for every man.” Henry kicked open the door to the kitchen and disappeared inside with the plates.
“That’s ‘cos she’s only got one eye!” the men chorused.
“She does?” Jed Curry asked, shifting towards the end of his bunk and letting his legs swing over the edge.
“She sure does,” Nathan stated. “Takes it out once in a while too.”
“She takes it out?” Jed’s mouth dropped open.
“She lost it in a poker game once.” Marty lit a cigar and blew a long stream of smoke into the air. “Had to wear a patch for a week until she won it back.”
“What’s it look like?” Jed hung on their every word.
“Like an eye.” Bill pulled out a chair and sat opposite Nathan. “It’s blue, if I remember rightly.”
“Well, you been real close to it enough times to know.”
“Shut up, Marty!” Bill scoffed.
The older man chuckled.
“How much did she bet it for?” Heyes asked.
“Can’t remember. I know she insisted the man who won it from her kept it in a box so it wouldn’t get damaged.” Bill shook his head at the memory.
“Anyone for more coffee?” Marty asked and cups were held out so he could make the rounds with the pot. The wood in the stove crackled and popped, the wind whistled under the door and the bunkhouse rang out with the hands’ laughter.

***

Kid Curry removed the bandana from his eye. It was still bleeding. He pressed it back against his skin, and then reached down for the plate of stew.

***
Hannibal Heyes huddled closer to the barrel as the rain blew in sideways. He shivered then wiped a raindrop from the end of his nose. It was going to be a long night.

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