Hannibal Heyes’ Hat
By Maz McCoy
I would not presume to write a story explaining how Hannibal Heyes got the hat, so many of you Heyes girls, love so much. That is for a Heyes fan to write. A story filled with feeling, and a little longing, for descriptions of a battered brim and silver trimmings; of a hat pushed back on ruffled dark hair, by a man with a smile and two dimples…..Well you get the picture.
This is not about how he got his hat. However, this is a story involving THE HAT, and our appreciation of other stuff. So….one fine summer’s day…
Kid Curry lay on his back in the sunshine, his hat over his face, his hands behind his head and his legs crossed at the ankles. The sun’s rays penetrated his blue shirt and dusty jeans, warming his skin. His chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, signifying that he was asleep. Off to his right two horses stood in the shade of some trees. A campfire glowed dimly, as its embers began to cool. To Kid’s left a small lake of crystal clear water, glistened in the sunlight.
Suddenly a dark head broke the surface of the water. Hannibal Heyes took a breath, then swam towards the shore. Before he got there he disappeared beneath the surface once more, gliding under the water until he reached a shallower depth. When he surfaced the second time, Heyes stood up. He was waist deep. Water ran down his tanned chest as he brushed his hair back from his face with both hands.
Seeing his friend on the bank Heyes called out to him.
No answer, from the still form.
“Not anymore,” came the reply. Kid raised his hat with one finger and stared at his partner. Heyes grinned at him. “You about done?” Kid asked.
“Almost. You know you should have a swim. The water’s warm and it’ll do your back good,” Heyes suggested, as the hat lowered.
“My back is fine here,” Kid replied. “It just needs to be allowed to rest. In peace.” He heard Heyes laugh and then swim off. Kid closed his eyes. Two days ago a rock fall had spooked his horse and he had been thrown hard. He’d landed awkwardly and jarred his back. It was still aching and he’d had trouble sleeping, but now, in the warmth of the sun, he had finally found a comfortable position. He drifted slowly back to sleep.
The quietest sound woke him, suddenly. In fact it was, quite literally, a whisper. His head snapped up. Turning, Kid saw two small boys; one was rummaging through their saddlebags beside the fire. The other, a dark-haired lad, was over by their horses.
“Hey!” Kid yelled, getting quickly to him feet. “Ow! Damn it!” he added when a pain shot through his back.
The boys, realising they had been spotted, grabbed a bag of food, dropped the saddlebags and broke into a run. Kid gave chase, but each time he put his foot down, another pain shot through his body. Kid ran, limped, groaned and ran again. Behind him, he heard his partner, splashing through the water and then running to catch up. The men pursued them through the trees, to where the boys had tied their own scrawny pony. Kid saw the dark-haired boy in the lead, leap onto the battered saddle, then turn to help pull his blond-haired companion up behind him. They kicked furiously and the pony took off, heading away from the wood and towards the town of Newton’s Drift. Suddenly the pony stopped, the boys turned in the saddle, looked back at the two men and laughed. They waved a cowboy hat in the air.
“Whoo hoo!” they yelled in unison and spurred the horse away once more.
Kid had his gun in his hand, but what was he supposed to do? Shoot children?
“Who the heck were they?” Heyes asked, as he drew along side him.
“Us, about twenty years ago,” Kid said, wistfully.
“Why didn’t you shoot ‘em?” Heyes asked, as he struggled to get his breath back. Water fell from his hair into his eyes, he flicked it away.
Kid turned to face his partner.
“They’re little kids, Heyes,” he stated, flatly.
“They just stole our food!” Heyes told him. “And they were laughin’ at us.”
“Yeah, well.” Kid looked at his friend with a wry smile on his face. “A nekked man yellin’ at ‘em might have something to do with that,” he replied.
Heyes was suddenly reminded that he was indeed naked and still dripping wet from the swim. Water, glistening in the sunlight, continued to cascade down his tanned body and drip from his dark-hair. Heyes looked embarrassed. He turned and strutted, naked, back towards the campsite. Kid suppressed a smile.
“Oh, and they got your hat!” Kid called after him. Heyes stopped dead and turned. Two angry brown eyes fixed on Kid.
“We’re going after them?” Kid asked, as he threw his saddlebags onto his horse.
“Yes, we’re going after them,” his partner told him, firmly. He tucked his dark blue shirt into his pants, and then sat down to pull on his boots. “They have my hat!”
“It’s only a hat,” Kid said and there was an ominous silence.
“Only a hat? Only a hat?” Heyes exclaimed, as he shot to his feet. His hair was still wet and his shirt was sticking to his damp body. “It happens to be, my hat. Not their hat, but MY HAT!”
Kid smiled, innocently, at his friend.
“I know you like that hat…” he began.
“Like it? Of course I like it, it’s MY HAT!” Kid stayed silent and let his partner continue. “Kid, it’s the principle of the thing. They robbed us.”
“Yeah, so now we know how it feels.” Heyes ignored him and pulled on his other boot. Kid sighed. “So we’re going after them?”
“Yes, we are,” Heyes said with determination.
Kid rolled his eyes.
“For a hat?”
“Yes! I want it back.”
Kid knew better than to argue with his partner when he was this determined. He had to admit that Heyes without that hat was not something he could imagine. And, if their positions were switched, he would be just as angry and determined to get back his possessions. He climbed, somewhat stiffly, into the saddle and sat quietly watching his friend stomp about until he was ready to go. Once Heyes was on his horse, he gave Kid a quick nod and they headed towards Newton’s Drift.
Newton’s Drift was a relatively new town. It had a livery stable, hotel, saloon and jail. There were some unfinished buildings at either end if the town and the smell of freshly cut wood hung in the air along with the sound of hammers on nails. The people of Newton’s Drift were also eagerly anticipating the arrival of their first permanent doctor in the next couple of weeks.
Heyes and Kid rode slowly into town, took a moment to read the name over the jail sign and exchanged a quick glance. Neither had heard of Sheriff Edwin Kern. They turned back to the livery stable. The manager directed them to a couple of empty stalls and the two men set about removing their horses’ saddles. Kid looked around as he undid the cinch. His eyes opened wide when he saw something familiar.
Kid nudged Heyes’ arm and without saying a word, pointed. Just outside the livery stable, stood a lone pony, wearing a battered saddle. Kid and Heyes crept slowly towards the doorway. Voices could be heard just the other side of the wall. Kid peered around the doorframe. Two small boys, one blond, one dark-haired sat on the ground, desperately stuffing their faces with food. The remaining contents of the bag of food, they had stolen from Kid and Heyes, were scattered on the ground in front of them.
Kid turned back to Heyes and nodded.
Hannibal Heyes strolled out casually into the sunshine. The boys didn’t recognise the dark-haired man, not having seen him with clothes on before.
“Howdy boys,” he said, giving them a cheery grin. Two small faces looked up at him. Both boys stopped chewing. “Watcha got there?” Heyes asked, innocently.
“Just our lunch,” the dark-haired lad said, guardedly. He was about ten years old. The blond boy beside him, who was a year or two younger, swallowed his mouthful.
“Looks good,” Heyes observed, casually.
“D’you want somethin’ mister?” the dark-haired lad asked, suspiciously.
Heyes met the boy’s eyes and he was no longer smiling. Detecting a change in atmosphere, the boy looked afraid. As one, both boys were swiftly on their feet. They turned towards the stable and came face to face with Kid Curry.
“Howdy boys,” he said with a confident smile.
“Run!” the blond boy yelled and they did. Heyes reached out and grabbed the dark-haired boy while Kid caught hold of the blond boy.
“Oh no you don’t!” Kid stated, firmly.
The two young thieves struggled in the men’s grasp.
“Let me go!” the blond boy cried. Kid held onto his arm, as the boy kicked and squirmed to get free.
“Get off me!” the dark-haired lad yelled, kicking out at Heyes. He caught the ex-outlaw leader hard on the shin.
“Ow!” Heyes cried. “Why you little…” The boys continued to struggle, but it soon became obvious the men were not about to let them go.
“Will you calm down?” Kid told the smaller of the two boys.
“We’re not gonna hurt ya!” Heyes stated.
Eventually, when they realised that this appeared to be true, both boys stopped struggling. The men released them and the youngsters stood, head down, with their backs against the wall of the stable. They were quieter, but still looking for a way to escape.
Heyes looked at the boys. The older, dark-haired boy’s clothes were scruffy and his shoes worn, but he had a defiant look in his eye. The smaller blond boy was scrawny and clad in torn, dirty clothes. Kid was right; it could be them, many years ago.
“What’s your name?” Heyes asked the dark-haired boy.
The boy gave him a look.
“He asked you a question,” Kid reminded him, firmly, resting his hand on his gun.
“Harvey,” the boy said, his eyes on the guns the two men wore tied down. “Harvey Booker.”
“And you?” Heyes said, addressing the boy’s blond friend. Two blue eyes looked up at Heyes and he was startled to find a flood of memories coming back to him; memories of another small boy with blond hair and blue eyes. The boy stood up straight, his shoulders back, equally defiant. Heyes suppressed a smile.
“Well?” Kid prompted again.
“Willis. Willis Patterson,” the boy told them.
“Well Harvey, Willis, we need a little talk. I believe that’s our food you’re eating; food which you took from us. D’you know what they call taking things without permission?” Heyes asked.
“It’s called stealing,” the blond boy said. “We’re not idiots,” the boy told him, astonished that someone would ask such a stupid question. It was Kid’s turn to suppress a smile.
Heyes shot the boy a look.
“That’s right Willis,” he said, charitably. “Stealing. And do you know what happens to people who get caught stealing?”
“Of course we know,” the dark-haired boy told him. Did this man think they were simple?
Heyes eyes darkened and he moved closer to the boys. They were suddenly not so confident.
“Well I’m real glad you know it’s stealing,” Heyes told them, through gritted teeth. “So you’ll both be able to tell me what happens to boys that get caught stealing, won’t you?” He looked from one to the other.
“People go to prison,” Harvey said.
“Some do,” Heyes agreed. “And some get hanged. Depends on what they steal.” He let the word sink in. Then swiftly he turned back to his partner. “What d’you think Mr. Jones? Should we turn ‘em over to the sheriff or have ourselves a lynching?”
“I guess we could always shoot ‘em,” Kid said, drawing his gun and twirling it a couple of times before dropping it back in his holster.
Both boys now stared at them wide eyed, not sure if the men were serious or not and scared in case they were.
“Please mister,” Harvey said, with a quiver in his voice. “We only took it ‘cos we was hungry,” he tried to explain.
“And he only did it ‘cos I said so,” Willis added. “So it ain’t Harvey’s fault. If you’re gonna hang someone, or shoot someone, I reckon it should be me,” he told Heyes, bravely. Unseen by the boys the partners exchanged a look.
“D’you think being hungry’s an excuse to steal?” Heyes asked, seriously.
“It is if you’re so hungry it hurts,” Harvey told them. Neither man felt he could argue with that.
“When did you two last eat?” Kid asked, sympathetically.
“Yesterday morning,” Willis told him, and two sets of blue eyes met. “My ma’s been sick, so we ain’t had a lot to eat this week.”
Once again the partners exchanged a look.
“Okay,” Heyes said, gently. The two boys looked up at Heyes and he smiled. “I guess we won’t be shootin’ you or handing you over to the sheriff.”
Slowly the boys relaxed.
“You took something else,” Heyes said, looking around but not seeing the one thing he wanted.
“No sir, we didn’t,” Harvey stated.
“Don’t lie son,” Kid told him, resting a hand on his gun for emphasis, and fixing the boy with his gunfighter’s stare.
“Well?” Heyes asked.
“You mean the hat?” Willis asked.
“Yes, I mean THE HAT!” Heyes snapped and the boy took a step backwards.
“We sold it,” Harvey told him.
“You WHAT?” Heyes asked, incredulously.
“We sold it,” the dark-haired young hat-thief repeated.
“To who?” the equally dark-haired man asked.
“Big George?” Heyes queried.
“Who’s Big George?” Heyes asked.
“He’s just Big George,” Willis told him.
“Where do we find, Big George?” Kid asked.
“Well he’s usually in the saloon. It’s just he was in the livery stable when we rode in and he sees Harvey with this black hat on his head and he likes it ‘cos it’s got silver trimmings. So Harvey says he can have it for $5.”
“$5! Is that all?” Heyes asked, incredulous once more.
“Well it didn’t seem right to ask for more,” Harvey said. “I mean it sure was a battered old thing.”
“Do you know how expensive that hat was?” Heyes asked, his voice growing louder. “Do you have any idea how long you’d hafta work to buy a hat like that? Do you know how much the band on it cost?” He stared at them. The boys looked dumbstruck.
“I don’t think they do, Joshua,” Kid said, gently. Heyes turned to look at his friend. Kid smiled and Heyes composed himself.
“It’s a nice hat,” Heyes said, his teeth clenched. “It has silver trimmings.”
“Was it yours?” Harvey asked, suddenly worried again.
“Yes,” Heyes stated.
“Sorry,” Willis said and Heyes was about to cut him off with a quick retort when he saw two blue eyes looking up at him and a torrent of memories came flooding back once more. Heyes looked up at Kid, who just smiled.
Heyes looked at his partner. It was agreed.
“Alright boys, we’re gonna letcha go, but you have to promise not to go around stealing things, d’you hear? It can lead to all sorts of trouble. Believe us, we know.” Heyes looked sternly at them both. Two heads nodded.
“Here,” Kid said, fishing in the pocket of his vest. He handed them each a coin. They looked at it wide-eyed. “Keep it for when you get hungry again,” Kid told them.
“Yeah, we don’t want to hear about you two turning into outlaws,” Heyes said.
“We won’t mister,” Harvey assured him, but both men knew, that wasn’t a promise he would necessarily be able to keep.
They could hear the noise from the saloon long before they pushed through the bat-wing doors. It was crowded inside. A cattle drive was passing by the town and the cowboys were thirsty men with money to spend. Several poker games were already underway, the girls were working overtime and the alcohol was flowing freely. At the end of the bar a large, dark-haired man with a close-cut beard stood, holding a beer glass in his hand. This was surely Big George. On the top of his head, sat a black hat, with distinctive silver trimmings on the band. Kid and Heyes exchanged a look.
“I hope you know whatcha doin’,” Kid said, as they headed towards the big man.
Heyes gave his partner a confident smile and patted him on the shoulder.
“It’s my hat, Kid,” Heyes stated and strode towards the bar.
“Howdy,” Heyes said, as he walked up to Big George. “That’s a nice hat you’re wearing.
Kid leaned on the bar beside his friend, listening, watching.
“What’s it to you?” Big George asked, clearly not the most amiable of men.
“I understand you just bought it,” Heyes told him, ploughing on. The big man looked at him.
“So that happens to be my hat. The boy who sold it to you shouldn’t have done so.”
“I guess you’re gonna need to get yourself a new hat then,” George told him with a smile and turned back to his friends.
Beside Heyes, Kid waited to catch the bartender’s eye.
“Well, I’d really like that hat back,” Heyes told George. “It has sentimental value.”
Kid ordered a beer.
“You can’t have it,” Big George stated. “I bought it. It’s mine.”
“Well I understand that,” Heyes told him. “But I’d really like my hat back. I’ll give you twice what you paid for it. Now that’s a pretty good profit in just a couple of hours.” Heyes watched the man’s face expectantly.
“It ain’t for sale,” Big George told him, flatly.
Heyes considered this.
“Do you play poker?” he asked, hopefully.
“No!” Big George informed him. “I ain’t got a poker face. Never could hide what I’m feelin’ from folks,” he said, leaning in closer to Heyes, as he glared at him.
Kid put down his beer and turned to watch the exchange.
“But you’re a sporting man? I can see that,” Heyes continued. “You’d be open to a proposition?”
“Whatcha got in mind?” George asked, his interest roused.
“You deal twenty five cards on the bar here and I bet you I can make five pat hands.”
“From any twenty five cards I deal?”
“Yes. Now what do you reckon the chances are of doing that?” Heyes looked at the big man, hopefully.
“I don’t know. Don’t sound too likely,” George replied, clearly considering this.
“Would you be willing to bet that hat against it? If I make five pat hands the hat is mine?”
“What if you don’t?”
Heyes smiled at the thought.
“I’ll give you $100,” Heyes said, confidently. A couple of Big George’s friends whistled in surprise.
“Hell, if you don’t take that bet George, I will,” someone said.
“Er, Joshua,” Kid said, keeping his voice low. Heyes turned to face his friend. “We don’t have $100,” Kid reminded Heyes.
“I’m not expecting to lose,” the dark-haired man stated, confidently and turned back to George.
“Alright, I’ll take that bet,” the big man told him and borrowed a deck of cards from a nearby table. He counted out twenty five cards, and then passed them to Heyes. The dark-haired man did his best to pretend to be worried, as he turned the cards face up on the bar. Kid took another swallow of his beer and watched his partner at work.
Heyes quickly laid out a flush and a straight, and then got to work on the remaining cards. Kid watched, saying nothing. The men around them looked on with interest. Heyes arranged a couple of pairs and three of a kind.
However, after some time, it became obvious to Kid that Heyes was struggling to make five pat hands. There was that slight look of irritation in his partner’s eyes and just the hint of that rarity…a bead of sweat on Heyes’ forehead.
“So how long you expectin’ to take to do this?” George asked.
“I’m almost there,” Heyes told him.
“You said that, five minutes ago,” another man reminded him, helpfully.
“You ain’t gonna do it!” George exclaimed.
“Joshua?” Kid asked in a whisper.
“I’m alright,” Heyes said, but Kid knew that wasn’t true.
“What’s he trying to do?” a voice asked beside Kid.
“Make five pat hands outta twenty five cards,” someone said and Kid turned to see who the new arrival was. A shiny tin star gleamed on the man’s chest. Kid looked quickly away and said a silent prayer.
“Alright, time’s up!” George proclaimed and, reluctantly, Heyes stood back, hating to admit defeat.
“You owe me $100,” George said, triumphantly, holding out his hand.
Heyes shot a quick look at his partner, who cringed.
“Give him the money,” the sheriff said and the room fell silent.
Heyes turned and saw the lawman standing beside Kid. His partner raised his eyebrows.
“Did you hear me?” the sheriff asked.
“Yes sheriff I did,” Heyes admitted. “You see there’s a little problem…”
“Do you have $100?”
“That’s the problem,” Heyes told him.
“Nine times out of ten,” Heyes muttered. “It works nine times out of ten. Those are great odds. I had to play those odds. Nine times out of ten,” he said again, and then rested his head in his hands against the bars of the cell.
“I guess this was the tenth time,” Kid said.
Heyes looked up at his friend, who was standing on the other side of the bars.
“What are we gonna do?” Heyes asked, forlornly.
“You’ll think of something,” Kid assured him, confidently.
Just then Sheriff Edwin Kern walked towards them. He was in his early fifties with a trim body and an easy manner.
“I have an idea boys,” the sheriff told them, looking from the dark-haired man in the cell, to his blond-haired friend. The two men waited to hear what the sheriff had to say. They had already given him their version of events. “I’m not an unreasonable man and if that was your hat, and things happened like you said…although I’m not convinced you wouldn’t recognise those boys, if you saw them again. I reckon I know who they are and what you two are trying to do for them.”
Kid and Heyes exchanged a glance.
“So, I’ll make you a deal,” the lawman said. “You get the $100 and I’ll let you go, Mr. Smith, all charges dropped. I’ll just expect you to leave town.”
“You know Sheriff, you’re right,” Heyes agreed. “You are certainly not an unreasonable man. I think that’s a wonderful deal, very generous. Don’t you think so Thaddeus?” Heyes asked, giving Kid a friendly smile.
“Oh yeah, very reasonable,” Kid agreed.
The Sheriff smiled and walked back to his desk.
“Well, it’s all down to you Thaddeus,” Heyes told him. Kid didn’t look too ecstatic at the prospect. “How much have we got right now?”
“Between us? Fifteen dollars and forty eight cents,” Kid stated.
“Oh boy,” Heyes said, resting his head on the bars once more. “I’m gonna grow old in here, I just know it.”
Hannibal Heyes sat on the bunk, his elbows resting on his knees. He had suffered the indignity of a search and was facing the prospect of at least one night of prison food and a squeaky bunk. He looked around. His eyes took in the sheriff’s desk, the rifle rack, the stove with the coffee pot on top and then fell on the notice board fixed to the wall beside the window. He groaned as he saw two familiar wanted posters. He buried his face in his hands and hoped Kid would be able to get him out of there soon.
Kid returned to the jail shortly after breakfast, the following morning. He removed his gun belt and left it on the sheriff’s desk, then wandered over to the cell. Heyes was unshaven and he looked anything but amiable.
“You okay?” Kid asked, keeping his voice low so the sheriff wouldn’t be able to hear them.
“Oh sure,” Heyes told him with exaggerated cheerfulness. “I’ve been passing a few pleasant hours staring at my own wanted poster!” he snapped.
Kid decided not to comment, although he did give the notice board a quick glance and swallowed when he saw the name Kid Curry leap out at him. Kid waited until his partner had calmed down.
“So how did you do?” Heyes asked.
“I won $38 last night,” Kid told him.
“Is that all?”
“Just how hard were you tryin’ Kid?” Heyes hissed.
“As hard as I could!” Kid told him, hurt by the insinuation. “They don’t exactly play high stakes poker here!”
“So hand it over to the sheriff, make sure you win more than that tonight and I’m outta here,” Heyes stated, triumphantly. Kid looked at the floor. “What?” Heyes asked, suspiciously.
“I don’t have $38 now,” Kid told him.
“Why not?” An intense brown-eyed stare fell on Kid Curry.
“Well I needed to eat Heyes,” Kid told him.
“And?” Heyes asked, through gritted teeth, knowing there was more.
“And I had to pay for my room at the hotel,” Kid explained.
“Well I’m glad you’re making yourself comfortable,” his partner said, sarcastically. A thought crossed his mind. Heyes suddenly sniffed the air. Kid looked at him curiously. Heyes moved closer to the bars and sniffed Kid. The blond man stepped back.
“Whatcha doin’?” he asked, nervously.
“Have you had a bath?” Heyes asked, accusingly.
Kid remained silent.
“You did!” Heyes glared at him.
“Well I didn’t get a swim in the lake, did I,” Kid reminded him.
“Cos you didn’t want one!”
“Well it was good for my back!” Kid told him, defensively.
“Just how much money do you have left?” Heyes demanded to know.
Kid told him.
“Sheesh, is that all? At this rate I’ll be in here another three or four days! They’re charging me for my food you know? If you keep spending your winnings, I may never get outta here!”
Kid bit back a retort.
“Don’t worry, Heyes. I’ll get the money,” Kid told his friend, confidently.
“I know you will Kid,” Heyes admitted. “I’m just not sure when!”
Kid met his partner’s gaze, but wisely said nothing.
“Kid. You hafta get me outta here,” Heyes pleaded.
“I’m doing my best, I promise you,” his partner replied.
Kid Curry pulled the contents of the pot towards him. He smiled. More men from the cattle drive were in town tonight and they seemed all too willing to part with their money.
“Well fellas, I think I’ll call it a night,” he said. Two of the other players agreed. It was late and they had jobs to go to in the morning and an early start. Two men sitting across from Kid were not so pleased.
“You’ve got a lot of my money there,” one man reminded him. He was one of the cowboys on the drive. He wore a brown shirt and a black leather vest. His dark hair was long at the back, touching the collar of his shirt. His name was Morrison and, when he saw Kid was thinking of leaving, he was clearly angry.
“You’ve got a lot of mine too,” the man to his right said. He was thinner, with greying hair and his mother had named him Oswin after her favourite cousin. He was also on the drive.
“Well that’s the way it goes sometimes fellas,” Kid remarked, pushing back his chair and standing up.
“I hope you’re gonna give us the chance to win some of it back,” Morrison said.
Kid just smiled, nodded goodnight and turned away. The two men watched him push through the bat wing doors. Morrison caught the eye of a couple of men standing at the bar. He nodded his head towards Kid, then he and Oswin joined them and they left the saloon.
Kid made his way across the street, heading towards the sheriff’s office. He had won over $150 tonight and he was going to get his friend out of jail. Kid was feeling pleased with himself. Heyes would be ecstatic. Kid knew it was driving his partner crazy, being locked up, and they were both well aware that at any moment someone could notice the similarity between the description on the wanted poster and the man in the cell. They needed to get far away from Newton’s Drift as soon as they could. Maybe they could head down to Porterville tomorrow, see how Lom was.
“Hey mister! Wait up!” someone called behind him and Kid turned to see a slim young man running towards him. “Did you leave this behind?” the man asked waving something in his hand.
Just then Kid heard a movement behind him. He turned and saw a fist getting rapidly closer to his face. The punch landed square on his jaw sending him reeling backwards, stunning him. As he stumbled, he felt hands grab hold of his arms, pulling them behind his back. Another punch caught the side of his face as he struggled with his captors. Kid’s head was spinning. There were three maybe four men around him. He felt himself being dragged into an alley. He managed to get one arm free and lashed out. He swung wildly, connected with someone’s stomach and then there was a groan. At the same time a fist hit him in the gut and he doubled over in pain.
Kid looked up, as another punch found its mark. He tasted blood in his mouth and then hands let him go. Kid fell to his knees and a boot flew at him, catching him in the ribs. Kid groaned and then a sudden pain pounded through his head and everything turned black.
Morrison and Oswin stood over the prone body of the blond man. Their two friends stood back in the shadows. Morrison held his stomach as Oswin searched through the pockets of Kid’s vest. There was a grin on his face, as he held up Kid’s poker winnings. Leaving their victim unconscious, they headed for their horses.
Heyes laid out the twenty five cards Deputy Dan Cresswell had just dealt. The young man watched, fascinated, as Heyes began to make five pat hands. The dark-haired prisoner concentrated hard on the cards laid out on his bunk. He was going to do it this time, no matter how long it took.
As luck would have it, although Heyes was not about to admit that it had anything to do with luck, this set of twenty five cards provided him with no problems at all.
“Flush, flush, straight,” he said, as he pointed to the cards, neatly arranged in five groups. “Straight, full house.” Heyes sat back satisfied that he still had the ability.
“Gee, Mr. Smith that’s a real neat trick you got there,” Dan gushed.
“It’s not a trick Deputy,” Heyes informed him. “It’s all a matter of odds. Nine out of ten times anyone can do it.”
“So why didn’t you do it?” Dan asked and the air in the room turned distinctly icy. Two brown eyes fixed on the young man on the other side of the bars.
“I didn’t get the right cards,” Heyes stated and Dan decided it would be better not to mention this again.
“Let me have a go,” he said and Heyes scooped up the cards, put them back in the pack and shuffled them. He dealt out twenty five onto his bunk. Dan reached through the bars and picked up the cards. As the young deputy studied them, a small calico cat wandered into Heyes’ cell from the back of the jail. She rubbed herself against Heyes legs and then weaved in and out of them, purring as she did so.
“Hey Cally, leave Mr. Smith alone,” Dan said, but the cat ignored him. “She don’t normally like whoever we got in the cells.”
Cally jumped up onto the bunk beside Heyes.
“She’s alright,” the dark-haired man stated, as the cat rubbed its face on his sleeve. Heyes stroked her under the chin and then ran his hand down the cat’s body causing her to arch her back.
“She seems to like you,” Dan observed. Cally purred her agreement and nestled into Heyes’ lap. Heyes let the cat stay there. Her coat was sleek and she continued to purr as he stroked her.
As Sheriff Edwin Kern was making his rounds, a sound caught his attention. Stepping into the alley, he saw someone struggling to get to his feet.
“Hey there fella, how much d’you have to drink?” the sheriff asked, good-naturedly. However when he saw the blood on the young blond man’s face his expression changed to one of concern. “Mr. Jones what happened?” he asked, as he helped the young man to his feet.
Kid staggered and put a hand on the wall of the building to steady himself. The sheriff studied his face. Blood had run from a cut on his left temple and his face was bruised, his nose covered in dried blood. Kid groaned and held his ribs.
“How bad you hurt boy?” the sheriff asked.
“I don’t know,” Kid told him, honestly. He shook his head and instantly regretted it, as everything swam about him. He touched the side of his head. That hurt. His jaw hurt too. His ribs didn’t feel much better. A sudden thought came to him and he searched his pockets. Empty. “Oh damn!” he said, leaning back against the wall.
“I’ve been robbed,” Kid replied.
“How much did they get?” the lawman asked.
“Enough to get my friend out of jail,” Kid told him, solemnly.
“Let’s get you inside,” the sheriff said, pointing to the jail.
“I haven’t done anything!” Kid protested, still woozy.
“I’m not arresting you,” the lawman told him, gently. “Just getting you some place safe.”
Understanding this, Kid began to walk slowly along the boardwalk, appreciating the occasional steadying hand from the lawman, when he staggered.
Hannibal Heyes looked up, with only partial interest, when the front door opened. He lay on the bunk, counting the cracks in the ceiling. He saw the sheriff enter and there was another man beside him; someone who clearly needed the sheriff’s help.
“Dan give me a hand here,” the sheriff called to his deputy and the young man got to his feet.
Heyes gave the man a cursory glance and then his eyes shot open wide, when he realised it was his partner. Heyes was quickly on his feet.
“What happened?” he asked, anxiously, as he watched through the bars of the cell. Kid’s face was bloody and bruised and he needed the help of the other men just to stay on his feet.
“Your friend got himself attacked. I found him in the alley,” the sheriff informed him. The sheriff and deputy helped Kid towards the open cell next to Heyes’. Kid raised his head slightly and saw Heyes looking anxiously at him. He tried to give his friend a reassuring smile, but it hurt too much. The dark-haired man followed them around three sides of his cell, moving from bar to bar, his eyes never leaving his partner, trying to determine how bad he was hurt. He needed to check Kid out for himself, trusting no one else to help him, but there was no way he could do that.
The lawmen eased Kid down onto the bunk and the blond man groaned as he lay back on the pillow.
“Dan, go get that doctor that’s staying at the hotel,” the sheriff said.
“I thought he left on the stage,” the deputy told him.
“No he ain’t going ‘til tomorrow. Go on, go get him.”
Dan did as he was told and left the jail. The sheriff looked closely at Kid.
“I’ll get some water warming,” he said. He left the cell, leaving the door open, grabbed the coffee pot and went out the back door.
Heyes sat on the bunk closest to the next cell; the bars preventing him from checking Kid’s injuries. Desperate to help in some way and angry that he couldn’t, his hands tightened on the bars.
“Kid?” he said in a whisper, the anxiety he felt obvious in his voice.
“I’m okay,” Kid assured him, although he definitely didn’t look it. Blood ran from a cut above his left eye and was already dried about his nose. His bottom lip was split and his left cheek badly bruised. Heyes hoped there were no unseen injuries. Kid opened one eye and looked at his friend. “I’m okay, Heyes,” Kid said again.
“Yeah, you look it,” Heyes said, sarcastically.
Two blue eyes shot a look at the dark-haired man. Heyes smiled kindly, leaning against the bars. A sudden thought came to Kid. He groaned, holding his ribs.
“Damn!” he said.
“What’s wrong?” Heyes asked.
“I was robbed,” Kid stated. Heyes had suspected as much.
“Are you sure?” Heyes asked in a whisper..
The blue eyes met his once more, but Kid didn’t dignify that with an answer.
“It’s getting to be a habit, Kid,” Heyes said, with a smile.
“Yeah, well I had $150. Enough to get you outta here, so you still laughin?”
“$150?” Heyes asked, incredulously.
“Yeah, that’s what I had.”
Heyes sighed, resting his head back on the bars.
“Well, I was exaggerating earlier. The food ain’t that bad. I guess I can stomach it for another day,” Heyes told his friend, bravely.
“Oh well, me getting beat up’s okay then,” Kid said, sarcastically.
At that moment, the sheriff returned with the coffee pot now full of water. He gave Kid a quick glance, as he walked passed the cells and put the pot on the stove to heat up.
“How’s he doing?” he asked Heyes, as he walked back to the cells.
“Well he’s alive,” Heyes told him. “Any idea who did this?”
“No, like I said, I found him in the alley beside the jail. It couldn’t have happened too long ago.” The sheriff studied the blond man’s injuries and then looked up when the front door opened.
Dan had returned with a short, chubby man with glasses, dressed in an ill fitting suit. This was Doctor Orville Johansson. He carried a battered black bag and waited for the sheriff to usher him to the man he had been brought there to see.
The deputy carried Kid’s hat in his right hand.
“Found it in the alley,” he said, as he threw it on the bunk beside Kid. The blond man smiled gratefully at him.
“Mr. Jones?” the doctor asked and Kid looked up at him.
“Yeah,” Kid said.
“I’m a doctor. My name is Orville Johansson. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I got beat up doc,” Kid stated, helpfully. Heyes rolled his eyes.
“I mean were you punched? If so where?” the medical man asked him.
“Oh right,” Kid said, understanding. “Yeah, I was hit in the head and the stomach. I think I mighta been kicked too.”
Heyes faced clouded over as he heard this.
“Were you kicked in the head?” the doctor asked with concern.
“Don’t worry Doc he’s always like this,” Heyes joked, trying to hide his anxiety. Kid shot him a look.
“Just punched,” Kid told the doctor.
“So you were kicked where?” the doctor asked.
“Here.” Kid touched his ribs.
“Let me see. Open your shirt,” the doctor instructed the blond man. Slowly Kid undid the buttons. The doctor examined him. Kid groaned when the man pressed on his ribs. Doctor Johansson held up a finger and moved it from side to side, instructing Kid to follow it with his eyes. Heyes suppressed a smile. Kid did as the doctor asked.
“So how is he Doc?” Heyes asked. The doctor looked up at the man in the neighbouring cell, curious as to his interest in the matter.
“It’s alright, he’s my friend,” Kid told him.
“Well Mr. Jones is…” the doctor searched for the right word in English. “…bruised and bloodied but there are no broken bones and no concussion. I think with a night’s rest he will be fine.” He smiled kindly at Kid.
“Thanks Doc,” Kid said.
“Get some sleep, if the sheriff will let you stay here.” He looked up at Sheriff Kern.
“Oh sure, sure. You can stay here Mr. Jones, we aren’t expecting any famous outlaws in tonight.” He gave them all a smile, which Kid and Heyes returned, nervously.
The sheriff walked with the doctor to the door.
“Well I guess we’ll both be spending the night in jail now,” Heyes stated, wryly. “It just keeps getting better.” Kid didn’t answer. Heyes turned to look at his friend. Kid lay on the bunk, already asleep.
Heyes fingers rested on the dial. His head was pressed against the cold metal of the safe door, listening. Slowly he turned the dial to the right and heard a familiar click. Heyes smiled and took a breath. Then he heard a groan.
Heyes opened his eyes and heard another groan.
“Oh damn!” Kid said, as he sat up on the bunk, holding his ribs as he did so. He looked around, noticed the bars and his eyes shot open even wider, momentary panic on his face. “What the…?”
“It’s okay THADDEUS,” Heyes said, saying Kid’s alias loud enough to warn him. “You’re not under arrest. You got robbed, remember?” Heyes eyes searched Kid’s face, waiting for the moment of recognition. Two blue eyes fixed on Heyes, who nodded, eagerly hoping Kid would remember. Suddenly, he saw the blond man relax.
“Oh yeah,” Kid said. He swung his legs over the edge of the bunk and sat up.
“How you feeling?” Heyes asked.
“Like I got trampled by a stampede,” Kid told him. He let out a sigh. “I’m sorry I lost the money. I’ll get the rest somehow,” he told his partner.
“I know you will,” Heyes stated confidently. “I wouldn’t mind getting my hat back too.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Kid told him and Heyes smiled.
“Exactly how much money have you got left?” the dark-haired man asked.
“About $2 in my bags back in my room.” Kid looked up and met two sympathetic brown eyes.
“$2?” Heyes said, thoughtfully. “Oh well, just enough for a bath then.”
Kid smiled and rested his head on the bars.
“Oh Heyes,” he groaned, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
The front door opened and Edwin Kern walked in.
“Oh, good morning gentlemen,” the sheriff said, as he walked over to the cells. Cally the cat was close at his heels. “Did you two sleep well?” he asked, amiably, as the cat slipped between the bars and jumped up beside Heyes.
“Wonderful, thank you sheriff,” Heyes said, cheerfully, as he casually stroked the cat. The sheriff opened the door to Kid’s cell and walked in.
“And how about you Mr. Jones?”
“Fine, thank you,” Kid said, feeling awkward at making polite conversation with a sheriff, while sitting in a cell.
“Have you got any money son?” the sheriff asked Kid.
“Well…I…erm..” Kid wasn’t sure what to say. He knew in some towns they didn’t take too kindly to you if you were penniless.
“It’s alright,” the sheriff said, holding out something towards the young blond man. “Here, take this.”
Kid looked at the coins the sheriff was offering him.
“Sheriff, I can’t…” Kid began.
“Sure you can,” the lawman told him, firmly. “You need to eat don’t you?”
“Well yeah but…” Kid stumbled.
“You’ll pay the sheriff back, as soon as you can, won’t you Thaddeus?” Heyes said, encouraging Kid to take the money.
“Well of course but…” Kid agreed.
“Then it’s settled,” the sheriff said and Kid took the coins he was offered.
“I’ll pay you back, I promise,” the blond man told him.
“I asked around town about a job for you,” the sheriff told him and Kid’s head snapped up. Out of the corner of his eyes he noticed a slight grin on Heyes’ face.
“A job? Well that’s good isn’t it Thaddeus?” Heyes said, with exaggerated enthusiasm. Cally purred her agreement. Heyes ran a hand down her back.
“Oh yeah, great,” Kid said, flatly.
“Do you think you’re up to swinging an axe?” the lawman asked.
“Well I don’t know, I’m kinda bruised…” Kid started to protest.
“Oh you’ll be alright. It’s not too strenuous work,” the sheriff said, dismissively and Kid looked at his partner. “And a little exercise will help loosen up those muscles.”
Heyes said nothing, just smiled at his friend. Kid looked back at the sheriff.
“What do I hafta do?” he asked, reluctantly.
“They need wood cut for the schoolhouse. I told Miss. Coy, the school teacher, you’d be by later to help out. She’ll pay you too. We’ve already agreed on a sum. Guess that’s what school teachers do, sums.” The sheriff smiled at his own joke.
“You only need enough for a poker stake, Thaddeus. A good morning of wood chopping should get you that,” Heyes added, helpfully. “You’ll get fresh air and exercise and be doing a good deed for the children of the town.”
Kid had the urge to flatten his partner, but could do nothing about it through the bars. Instead he shot him an ice blue glare. Heyes simply smiled, innocently, back at him.
“I’ll go wash up at the hotel and then head on up to the school house,” Kid said, as he walked out of the cell.
“Well Miss. Coy will be there all morning so just knock on the door when you get there,” Sheriff Kern told him.
“I’ll do that sheriff,” Kid replied. He looked at Heyes through the bars. “Don’t go anywhere Joshua,” he added with a smile. It was Heyes’ turn to glare.
The schoolhouse was just one of many new buildings in Newton’s Drift. It stood on the edge of town, a shiny new bell glistened in the sunlight and the outside had been given a fresh coat of whitewash. Kid walked around the main building to a side door. He brushed down his shirt and then knocked. After a few moments, the door opened. A young, slim woman stood before him, her brown hair loose about her shoulders. She was taken aback when she saw a man, with bruises over his face, standing before her.
Kid removed his hat.
“Ma’am,” he started, politely. The school teacher was a tall, pretty woman. “The sheriff sent me.”
Miss. Coy relaxed and a radiant smile lit up her face. Her blue eyes met his, holding his gaze with confidence. Kid fought the urge to recite his six times tables.
“You must be Mr. Jones,” she said. “Sheriff Kern told me all about you. I’m so sorry you were attacked last night.”
“Thank you ma’am,” Kid replied, politely. “The sheriff said you had some wood to cut?”
“Oh yes, it’s around the back. Here I’ll show you.” She stepped out of the doorway and led Kid around the side of the school house. “I usually get one or two of the older boys to do this, as a punishment, but they have all been uncharacteristically well behaved of late,” she explained, as they walked. Miss. Coy set a fast pace and Kid had to quicken his own to keep up with her.
“The Sheriff said you were robbed,” the schoolteacher said, making polite conversation. “I do hope you were not hurt too badly.”
“Just a little bruised ma’am,” Kid said, bravely. Miss. Coy smiled at him and found herself suddenly mesmerized by his blue eyes. She stared at him. “Ma’am?” Kid said, after a few moments.
“Oh,” Miss. Coy said, composing herself. “Here we are.” She indicated a tree trunk that was clearly used as a chopping block, a pile of uncut logs and a small wood store. “The axe is hanging up inside,” she informed him. “You don’t have to cut it all. Robbie Prescott has never gone more than two weeks without doing something he shouldn’t, so we should keep some in hand for him.” She smiled, her eyes still on Kid’s face.
Kid nodded his understanding. Miss. Coy seemed to want to say something else but the school teacher found herself suddenly reticent.
“Is there something else ma’am?” Kid asked.
“No,” she said a little too quickly. “I’ll let you get on.” With another smile, she walked away. Kid didn’t notice her stop at the corner of the building and look back, appreciatively, at the handsome young man. Miss. Coy gave a heavy sigh.
“So you decide if you think you can beat the card I turn over next,” Heyes explained to the attentive deputy, sitting on the other side of the bars. Dan nodded, as he looked at the card he held. “If you think you can beat it then you can bet any amount you want up to the size of the pot.”
“Anything?” Dan asked.
“Yep, up to whatever’s in the pot,” Heyes said again. “So let’s see what you’ve got.”
The deputy laid his cards out on Heyes’ bunk. Heyes turned over the card on the top of the pack, revealing the four of diamonds, just as the front door opened and the sheriff walked in.
“I beat it!” Dan said excitedly, as he picked the ten of diamonds out from his hand.
“You beat it,” Heyes agreed.
“What are you playing?” the sheriff asked.
“Mr. Smith is teaching me a new game,” Dan explained. “It’s called Montana Red Dog.”
The sheriff looked up. His eyes met Heyes’ and the ex-outlaw knew the sheriff was well aware what Montana Red Dog was.
“Is that right?” Sheriff Kern asked, his eyes still on Heyes. “You playing for money Dan?”
“Oh no, just for fun sheriff,” the deputy assured him.
“Make sure you keep it that way,” the sheriff said, still not taking his eyes from Heyes. “And Mr. Smith, I’d appreciate it if you two stuck to poker.”
Heyes gave the sheriff an innocent smile, as he nodded his agreement.
Kid reached down and picked up a log. He carried it to the chopping block and swung the axe, splitting the log into two smaller pieces. Slowly he began to work his way through the pile of wood, cutting the logs into smaller lengths before splitting them into manageable pieces for the wood stove. At first his ribs hurt and he would groan or feel a twinge, as he bent down or swung the axe, but slowly his muscles loosened and the pain began to ease. His back had been feeling much better since his long soak in a bath and the exercise he was getting now, seemed to have helped that too. Kid soon built up a sweat and removing his blue shirt, he hung it on the door of the shed.
Inside the school house, Miss. Coy stood by the window watching the handsome young, blond man as he swung the axe. It connected with the wood, with a resounding thud. Sweat ran down his tanned, muscular body, as he bent to pick up another piece. She could see some bruising on his ribs and realised he had been hurt badly by the previous night’s attack. Miss. Coy felt something stir within her as she watched Mr. Jones. She was a young woman prevented, by the nature of her employment, from having male companionship. His smile had been warm, his manner charming and his blue eyes so intense. Miss. Coy let out an involuntary sigh. She was a school teacher not a nun.
Kid stood up, stretched his back and shoulders and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Miss. Coy watched him bend over to collect another log from the pile.
Miss. Coy placed a hand on her throat.
“Oh my,” she said, and another sigh escaped her.
As Kid bent down, something moved in the wood pile. Two tiny eyes focused on the man.
“Well hello little mouse,” Kid said, as the rodent froze in his shadow. “Were you watching me too?” he asked, with a smile. He had noticed the figure at the window. As if in response, the mouse twitched its whiskers and two tiny eyes met his. Kid smiled at the rodent.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna chop your tail off,” he told the small animal, kindly. The mouse edged back into the woodpile.
Hearing someone approach, Kid stood up. The school teacher walked towards him carrying a glass of lemonade.
“I thought you might need a drink,” she told him.
“Thank you,” Kid said, as he took it gratefully and began to drink.
“Well you’ve certainly cut a lot of wood,” she observed, looking at the pile of kindling.
“D’you want me to cut anymore?” Kid asked, as he finished the lemonade.
“No, it’s all right,” Miss. Coy told him. “Save some for young Robbie. Besides the sheriff and I agreed on a morning’s work and you have done just that.” She reached into her dress pocket, as Kid replaced the axe in the store. He collected his shirt and began to put it on.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked and the school teacher met his gaze, clearly considering his question. “Ma’am?” he prompted when she didn’t reply.
Miss. Coy smiled.
“You have done more than enough Mr. Jones,” she told him and held out her hand. “Here, the amount I agreed with the sheriff,” she said.
Kid looked down at the coins she had placed in his hand.
“Ma’am, this is too much,” he told her.
“No, you earned it,” she told him.
“Well thank you ma’am,” he said, replacing his hat.
“No, thank you Mr. Jones,” she said with a smile.
“It’s Thaddeus,” he told her.
“Thank you, Thaddeus,” she said.
“If there’s anything else I can do for you, you let me know,” Kid said, as his eyes held hers.
“Well, I’ll be home all evening, so if I think of anything…” she didn’t elaborate.
“I could stop by,” Kid suggested. “See if anything came to mind.”
“Good day ma’am,” he said and touched the brim of his hat. Miss Coy watched, as he walked away.
“So how’d it go?” Heyes asked, when Kid stopped by the jail on his way back to the hotel.
“I chopped wood and got paid for it,” Kid informed him.
“And..?” Heyes prompted.
“And I think the school teacher likes me,” Kid told his partner.
“What?” Heyes asked, incredulously.
“She was watching me,” Kid informed his friend.
“Did you have your shirt off again?” Heyes asked with a smile and Kid shot him a look.
“Well, yeah, I was getting hot,” Kid replied.
“And is she a young woman?” Heyes asked.
Heyes smiled and nodded, knowingly.
“And you didn’t show off at all did you?”
“Aw come on!” Kid protested.
“Are you seeing her again?” Heyes asked and Kid’s silence gave him his answer. “Just remember you’re trying to get me out of jail, okay?”
Kid smiled, innocently.
Kid entered the saloon and immediately knew the bruises on his face were attracting attention. He ignored the stares, got a beer and headed to the tables. Kid was determined to win enough to finally get Heyes out of jail and of course there was still the matter of his partner’s hat. He had played a couple of hands of poker and had already doubled his money, when Big George entered the saloon, with a familiar black hat perched on top of his head. Kid decided it was time to do something about that hat. Excusing himself from the next game, he collected his winnings and headed towards the big man.
“Howdy,” he said amiably and Big George turned towards him. “Can I buy you a drink?” Kid asked. The big man looked suspiciously at him.
“Just being friendly,” Kid told him.
“What do you want?” George asked, not fooled.
“I really want to get my partner his hat back,” Kid told the man, truthfully. “Is there some way we could sort this out? A way for me to win it back maybe? I’m not gonna suggest we use cards,” Kid said with a smile.
Big George looked at Kid thoughtfully, then his eyes fell on the gun tied to his hip.
“You any good with that gun?” the big man asked.
“What this?” Kid feigned indifference. “Well I can usually pick off a rattlesnake on the fourth or fifth shot,” he told George.
“Are you better with that than your friend is with cards?”.
“I think I am,” Kid told him, honestly.
“Hey George you gonna have a shooting contest?” the bartender asked, having been eavesdropping on their conversation. “George shot five outta six plates on the shooting range last Founder’s Day,” the man informed Kid, clearly impressed.
“Five outta six?” Kid said, wide eyed and innocent.
“Every time,” the bartender told him.
“Well I sure wouldn’t score five outta six,” Kid told him, honestly.
“So are you up for a shooting contest?” George waited for Kid’s reply.
“What are we shooting at?” Kid wanted to know.
“Tin cans I guess,” George said, although he hadn’t really thought about that. “Six cans, six bullets. The man that hits the most wins,” George stated.
“What are we shooting for?” Kid asked.
“You want his hat don’tcha?” George said.
“Yeah and enough to clear his debt.”
George thought about this.
“All right. If you win I’ll give you this hat back and whatever you still owe me,” George agreed.
“And if you win?” Kid asked.
“I want your gun,” the big man stated. “And double what your friend still owes me.”
“My gun?” Kid said and two steel blue eyes met George’s. The big man began to wonder if he should ask for something else. “If you can beat me in a shooting contest you deserve to win my gun,” Kid told him with genuine sincerity.
“Tomorrow morning then, out back of the saloon,” George said with a smile and slapped Kid hard on the back.
“You’re going to be in a shooting contest,” Heyes said with false excitement, when Kid returned to the jail later that evening. Kid had handed over some more money to the sheriff, before walking to the cell his friend still occupied. “Well that will sure draw a nice crowd,” Heyes said, with a smile, but Kid knew Heyes well enough not to smile back. Heyes was not as happy as he was pretending to be. Something was clearly wrong.
“I’ll tell you what,” Heyes said drawing his friend closer, as he lowered his voice, so the lawman wouldn’t hear. “Why don’t you ask the sheriff if you can take along your wanted poster, maybe get some copies to hand out to everyone too? Just in case they still can’t figure out who you are!” Heyes snapped.
Kid looked at his feet, waiting for his friend to calm down.
“I thought it was a good idea,” he said, quietly. “I’m gonna win your hat back!”
“I am,” the blond man assured him. “I’m not gonna shoot every can dead centre!” Kid exclaimed.
Heyes just rolled his eyes at his friend.
“I’m gonna get your hat back and clear your debt,” Kid said, sincerely. “I’m not trying to get caught.”
Heyes sighed and gradually softened.
“I know. Just be careful okay?” he told his friend.
“So what are you going to do tonight?” Heyes asked his friend, conversationally.
“Oh, I thought I might catch up on some schooling,” Kid said, casually. He gave his partner a knowing smile and headed towards the door.
The next morning, just as Hannibal Heyes had predicted, a crowd had gathered to watch the shooting contest. There was not much excitement in Newton’s Drift, so anything out of the ordinary was something to see.
Several bales of hay had been piled up behind the saloon and the bartender was busy arranging a row of tin cans on one bale, as Kid strolled up.
“Mornin’,” Kid said, casting a professional eye over the set up.
“Mornin’, Mr. Jones,” the bartender replied. “You’ve drawn quite a crowd.”
Kid looked at the people around him. Several small boys, including two familiar ones, had found themselves a good view point on top of a wagon. There were one or two store owners and, standing to one side against the wall of the general store, Kid spotted Miss. Coy. He gave her a smile, touching the brim of his hat as he did so. She blushed slightly and smiled back.
“Good luck,” she said, although she was too far away to hear.
Cheers and whoops signalled the arrival of Big George. The crowd parted to let him through and there were calls of ‘Go get him George’ and ‘Show ‘im how it’s done George’ for the local man. Kid wasn’t surprised the townsfolk were partisan. He stood to one side, letting the big man have his moment of glory. George surveyed the shooting range and it appeared to meet with his approval. He removed the Schofield from his holster and loaded the sixth bullet.
“You feeling lucky today?” George asked, as he looked up at Kid.
“I don’t think luck’s got much to do with it,” Kid stated, confidently.
“You ready?” George asked.
“Anytime you are,” Kid told him.
“All right. We each get six shots. The man who hits the most cans, wins. Who goes first?”
“After you,” Kid said, stepping back. George found himself suddenly unnerved. The young man was confident, almost too confident.
George turned away from Kid, gave a wave to the crowd and then faced the bales of hay and the distant cans. He moved his feet slightly apart, steadying himself. George took a long breath. His hand hung close to his gun and the crowd fell silent.
“Anytime you’re ready George,” the bartender told him. George nodded.
Heyes paced back and forth in his cell. He rubbed the stubble on his chin thoughtfully, then paced again. He stopped, grabbed a hold of the bars, squeezing them until his knuckles turned white and then, letting go, paced back and forth once more.
What was happening out there? Both the sheriff and the deputy had gone to watch the contest. At any moment their suspicions could be roused by the speed of his partner’s quick draw. What on earth had his partner been thinking when he agreed to it? Kid hadn’t been thinking, Heyes scoffed, that was the problem. He was the one that did the thinking for the partnership. If he left things to Kid, they usually found themselves in all sorts of trouble. Heyes glossed over the fact that, at present, it was he and not Kid who was in jail, following the latest Hannibal Heyes plan.
At any moment he expected to see the door thrown open and the lawmen drag Kid inside. It was driving Heyes crazy, waiting.
The calico cat entered the cell and jumped up onto the bunk. She gave a meow, but this time the dark-haired man ignored her and so she began to wash her paws. Heyes paced again and then there was the sound of six gun shots. He stopped in his tracks and held his breath.
Five cans lay scattered in the dust. The sixth was still in place on the bale.
“Five!” the bartender announced unnecessarily. The crowd clapped and cheered. The bartender walked back to the bales and began to set the cans up again. George gave Kid a triumphant look. Kid remained silent. The big man moved to one side and Kid stepped up to the mark.
Slowly, he peeled off the worn leather glove from his right hand and tucked it into the waistband of his gun belt. He waited, saying nothing, until the bartender scurried out of the way.
“You ready?” the bartender asked Kid.
“Yep,” came the reply.
A hush fell over the crowd. A figure moved to Kid’s left and he saw the sheriff step into view. Heyes’ words ran through Kid’s mind, as his hand hung at his side, but it was too late to back out now. Maybe he could draw a little slower? All he had to do was hit the cans after all.
“Any time you want Mr. Jones,” the bartender told him.
Kid drew and fired; six shots in rapid succession. Once more the sound of metal on tin filled the air only this time, when the sound faded, six cans lay in the dust. There were gasps of “Wow!” and “Did you see that?” from the crowd. For a moment Kid waited to see what the sheriff would do; waited for the look of recognition or suspicion. When nothing happened Kid turned to face Big George.
“You owe me that hat,” Kid stated.
“You’re real fast,” George said, as he removed Heyes’ hat from his head.
“Sometimes,” Kid told him. He looked up to see the sheriff watching him thoughtfully. Maybe he was suspicious after all. “You owe me some money too,” Kid reminded George. The large man searched his pockets and then handed over the money. Taking it, Kid walked over to Sheriff Kern. He held out the money.
“I believe that clears my partner’s debt,” he said.
“I believe it does,” the sheriff replied. “I think you’d better come with me to the jail.”
Heyes was instantly at the bars when the front door opened. He scanned his partner’s face for a sign that would tell him the outcome of the contest. Kid’s hands were behind him. The sheriff followed him into the office. Heyes eyes opened wide with fear, as Kid headed towards the cell. He knew it; his partner’s fast draw had done it again, got him recognised. If the sheriff knew who Kid was, he would surely put two and two together and realise Joshua Smith was really Hannibal Heyes. Heyes’ grip on the bars tightened. Why did Kid have to show off? He looked up as the blond man approached him, trying to control his anger so he could think fast; think of a way to get them out of this.
“What happened?” Heyes asked, with concern. Kid stopped before his partner, his expression serious. “Thaddeus?”
The sheriff, having picked up the keys from his desk, moved to stand behind Kid. Kid looked up and met his partner’s eyes through the bars.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Behind him, the sheriff did not speak. Heyes felt a knot of fear, tightening in his chest. “Sorry it took so long,” Kid added and then he brought his hands round in front of him, revealing a familiar black hat.
“Here,” Kid said with a smile, as he handed Heyes the hat through the bars. “I gave it a few whacks first in case George had er…well you know.”
Heyes breathed a sigh of relief, that Kid was not a prisoner and rested his head on the bars.
“You okay?” Kid asked, still holding Heyes’ hat. His friend’s head raised and two brown eyes focused on him.
“You know sometimes, knowing you is not good for my health,” Heyes stated. Heyes took the hat, looking it over, clearly understanding his friend’s previous comment.
“Thanks,” he said, pleased to have his hat back. He casually brushed some dust from the brim, as he turned it in his hands. “Did everything go all right?”
“Fine,” Kid assured him.
“What happened?” Heyes wanted to know, now that it looked as if Kid was still a free man. The sheriff walked to the cell door and unlocked it.
“That sure was some fancy shootin’ your partner did, Mr. Smith. An amazing thing to see. He shot six cans with six bullets and I have never seen a man as fast as that,” Kern announced.
Heyes looked at Kid, who shone innocent blue eyes back at him.
“Six outta six huh?” Heyes said, with mock surprise. Kid just smiled.
“He’s paid off your debt too,” the lawman told him. “So you’re free to go.” The cell door gave a metallic squeal, as the sheriff opened it.
Heyes smiled, relieved. As he stepped towards the door, Cally slipped from under his bunk and weaved in between his legs. Heyes bent down and gave the cat one last stroke along her back.
“I gotta go girl,” he said, as her back arched. Two feline eyes stared up at him.
“You got yourself a girlfriend, Joshua?” Kid teased. Heyes gave the cat a final scritch under the chin, as he stepped quickly from the cell. Heyes placed his hand flat on his partner’s back and pushed Kid towards the front door.
“Let’s get outta here,” he commanded. Kid didn’t argue.
A freshly scrubbed and shaved, Hannibal Heyes waited in the saddle, outside the hotel, while Kid tied his saddlebags onto his horse. A black hat with silver trimmings rested on Heyes’ head. A sense of order had been restored to his world. The men were preparing to leave Newton’s Drift at last. A commotion at the jail caught their attention and they watched as the Deputy dragged out two mangy looking alley cats and threw them into the street. The cats landed on all fours and proceeded to act as if nothing unusual had happened, while still keeping an eye on each other. Heyes smiled, the jail certainly seemed to attract cats. He leaned forward, resting his arms on the saddle horn.
“You about ready?” Heyes asked his partner.
“Yep,” Kid replied and a figure across the street caught his eye. Miss Coy stood on the boardwalk, outside the General Store. She was holding a paper bound parcel. The school teacher made no move to approach the two men.
“Who’s that?” Heyes asked, when he saw his partner smiling at the woman.
“The school teacher,” Kid told him, matter-of-factly and Heyes studied his friend, noting the expression on his face. Heyes took a moment to look at the woman across the street.
“Pretty lady,” Heyes observed, watching for Kid’s reaction.
“Yeah,” Kid said, distantly, his eyes still on Miss Coy.
“Just how many extra lessons you been taking?” Heyes asked, with a smile. Kid’s eyes met his, but he did not dignify that with an answer. Instead, Kid pulled himself into the saddle, and then adjusted his hat against the glare of the sun. The two men turned their horses away from the hotel. Kid pulled his horse to a halt. Miss Coy smiled at the blond man as their eyes met. Kid touched the brim of his hat to her for the last time and then Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode out of town.