Hostage

Hostage

By Maz McCoy

A warm breeze blew along the main street of Rumsford as puffy clouds drifted across the blue sky. A scruffy dog ran, barking, beside a small boy. Two middle aged ladies stood chatting on the boardwalk as their husbands loaded lumber into a wagon. Two young men stood beside their horses outside the Rumsford Hotel. Hannibal Heyes pushed his hat back on his head and tied his bedroll to the back of his saddle. He peered across his horse at his partner. Kid Curry tied his sheepskin coat onto his own saddle. If the warm weather held he wouldn’t need it for a while. He noticed Heyes looking at him. Two blue eyes focused on his friend.

“What?”

“You still going to the store?”

“Well, I still need bullets.”

“We need more coffee.”

“Okay.”

“And…”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Heyes shook his head and turned his attention back to the saddle.

“You thinking about that book you were looking at?”

“No, forget it. We don’t have money to waste.”

Heyes walked around the back of his horse just as the animal raised its tail. He stepped out of the way in time to avoid treading in the steaming remains of the horse’s last meal.

“I guess it must be your lucky day.”

“Lucky?”

“Well if it wasn’t you’da stepped in it. I won’t be long.” Kid smiled and headed across the street towards the store. He paused and turned back to Heyes. “You sure there’s nothing else we need?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Okay.”

Mentally Kid ran through their supplies. He’d get two boxes of bullets while he had enough money, and maybe the store sold coffee that not even Heyes could make taste awful. He took the steps to the boardwalk. He might just buy Heyes that book he was after, if he could still remember the title. At least it would keep him quiet on the trail. Sometimes his friend sure did talk a lot. Not that he minded, it was just that sometimes he preferred a little peace and quiet. A bell above the door rang as he entered the store. Closing it, he turned to look around as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, and came face to face with the barrel of a shotgun.

The store owner stood behind the counter, his hands raised. A young, woman, fear etched on her face, stood in front of the counter just a few feet away. Her hands were also raised. A tall, scruffy man, in a battered hat and long, dirty coat held the shotgun. His eyes fixed nervously on Kid.

Kid caught a movement to his left. He turned and something thumped him hard the shoulder, a searing pain screamed through his body. Kid stumbled backwards, crashing into the counter.

***

Heyes was checking a shoe on his horse when he heard the gunshot. His head snapped up, he dropped the hoof and turned in the direction of the general store. Kid! A knot of fear tightened in his chest.

Old Elijah Wheatley, walking along the boardwalk, stopped dead in his tracks when the shot rang out. Pressing himself against the wall, he peered carefully through the large store window. Inside he could see a man holding a shotgun on Ike Neilson and, if he wasn’t mistaken, Ruth Wilmington, the hotel owner’s daughter, was cowering beside the counter. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on something out of sight on the floor.

“They’re robbin’ the store!” he cried.

Robbin’ the store! The words echoed in Heyes’ brain. They’re robbin’ the store. Who were they? Kid was in there and someone had fired a gun. Was it Kid who had fired the shot or had someone recognised him and…? They didn’t think he was robbing it did they? Drawing his gun, Heyes ran to join Wheatley against the wall.

“Can you see who it is?” he asked, peering around the man.

“Don’t know the man I saw.”

“What did he look like?”

“Tall, dark-haired. Got a shotgun.”

A shotgun! Heyes’ heart sank.

***

“WHAT THE HECK DID YOU DO THAT FOR, FRANK?” Gideon Pointer yelled. Frank looked to where Kid lay slumped on the floor, blood soaked into the left shoulder of his blue shirt.

“He was going for his gun!” Frank pointed at Kid.

“He was putting his hands up!” his older brother told him.

“He wasn’t, I swear!” Frank reached down, removed Kid’s gun from the holster. Two ice blue eyes fixed on him but he avoided the wounded man’s gaze. He held the gun in his hand, examining the balance. “Pretty fancy,” he muttered then shoved it into his waistband.

Gideon swore and glanced out of the window. He could see people milling about outside, staring at the store.

“Dammit! They know what’s going on now!” He glanced down at Kid and the blood on his shirt, cursing his brother under his breath.

Frank moved to the window and spotted the sheriff heading across the street, strapping his gun belt around his waist.

“The sheriff’s comin’! What we gonna do, Gid?”

“Get out the back way while you can.” They looked down at the man on the floor. Blood ran through Kid’s fingers, where his hand covered the wound. He bit back the pain as he looked from one man to the other. “It won’t take the sheriff long to figure out what’s going on in here. He’ll have men covering the back before you know it and you’ll be trapped. Then what?”

The brothers glanced at each other.

“He’s right.” They turned to Ike Neilson. “The back door’s that way fellas.” He pointed. Gideon made his decision.

“Not without the money and supplies we came for.”

Frank smiled and raised his Colt at Neilson.

“You got the list we gave you?” Neilson nodded nervously. “So get the stuff. NOW!”

The store owner moved behind the counter.

***

Heyes handed his hat to Wheatley and crawled along the boardwalk under the window, keeping his body low. He raised his head and peered through the glass. Where the heck was Kid? He saw two men in long coats, one with a shotgun, and the other with a Colt. A young woman looking petrified stood beside some barrels, a man behind her placed small packages on the counter. Still there was no sign of Kid.

Sheriff Reuben McKone strode towards the store. Heyes raised a hand and the lawman stopped. Heyes wriggled back along the boardwalk.

“What’s going on?”

“Looks like a robbery, Sheriff.”

“How many in there, can you see?”

“Two men at least. There’s also an older man and a young woman, my partner too, except…”

“Except what?”

“I couldn’t see him.”

“It’s Ike and Ruth Wilmington,” Wheatley informed the lawman. “Don’t know the man with the shotgun.”

Before the sheriff could ask another question, the door to the general store opened a crack.

“EVERYONE KEEP BACK! WE GOT HOSTAGES!”

“LET THEM GO AND WE CAN TALK ABOUT THIS!” McKone called, optimistically.

“If I let ‘em go you ain’t gonna talk!” Heyes had to admit the man had a point. “Just keep everyone away from here. We already shot one man, we’ll do the same to others if we have to.”

We already shot one man. Heyes swallowed and rested his head back against the wall trying to calm his breathing. He couldn’t see Kid. We shot one man.

“How bad’s the man hurt?” he called.

“He’s bleedin’ but alive. If you don’t want us to shoot the lady, you’ll stay back.”

Kid was alive.

***

From his position on the floor against the counter, Kid listened to the shouted exchange. He’d heard Heyes too. His partner knew what was going on, that gave him some comfort although he had no idea what he’d be able to do.

“I’M SHERIFF REUBEN MCKONE! WE NEED TO TALK!” a man boomed.

Gideon sheltered behind a stack of boxes.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME?” the sheriff called.

“I hear ya!” The man was close enough; Gideon no longer needed to shout.

“Let the hostages go and we can talk!”

“I told you NO!”

“Let the lady go, at least.”

“No way sheriff. While she’s still here I know you ain’t gonna try nothin’.”

“What about the wounded man?”

Gideon shot a glance at Kid, meeting his gaze.

“He ain’t dead yet.”

“Will you let someone in to treat him?”

“Ain’t no one comin’ in or goin’ out right now. When we’ve got what we want we’ll be leaving. Then you can have him.”

“What do you want?” The sheriff asked.

“The store keeper’s gettin’ it for us. We’ll tell you when we’re leavin’. We’re takin’ the woman with us so you don’t get no ideas about trying to stop us.”

“That won’t help you boys.”

“I think it’ll help us just fine, sheriff.” The door closed and the sheriff gave a heavy sigh.

***

His shoulder hurt like hell and there was a lot of blood on his shirt; too much, too quickly. His head swam but he had to think clearly. Easier said than done. Heyes knew what had happened, that was good. The sheriff was out there too. They didn’t know the man, which was why Rumsford had seemed like a nice town to spend a few days in. It had been just that until the day they decided to leave.

Kid watched the brothers as they paced back and forth. He’d suggested the men take the back way out of the store but they had ignored him. Once they realised they’d given the sheriff time to cut off their escape route how desperate would they become? He had to think clearly. What next? A wave of nausea passed over him. He had to stop the bleeding or he’d be no use to anyone.

“Can I get something to help slow the bleeding?” he asked, looking at the brothers. “So far this is just a robbery. If I die you’ll be wanted for murder. Can’t say I’d be too pleased about it myself.”

“Gid?” Frank waited for his brother’s decision.

“Please, let me help him?” the young woman stepped forward.

“All right lady, but don’t try anything stupid,” Gideon warned. “We’ll be watchin’ you.” Kid watched the two men, noting the desperation in their eyes and the nervous movements.

Ruth turned to face Neilson.

“Do you have any bandages, Ike?”

He fetched some from the shelf and, taking them, Ruth walked to Kid’s side.

“Are you all right?” she asked as she knelt beside him. Her eyes fixed on the blood on his shirt. “Silly question, sorry.”

“It’s alright.” He started to undo the buttons of his shirt with one hand, fumbling the task.

“Let me,” she said, placing the bandages on the floor and reaching forward. Kid moved his hand away and saw her blush as she opened his shirt to reveal bare skin.

“We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Thaddeus Jones.” Kid gave her a smile.

“Ruth Wilmington.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” Ruth pushed the shirt back off his shoulder. She gasped when she saw his torn, flesh. “It’s okay. I can do it.” Kid reached for a bandage.

“No, let me.”

“Is there an exit wound? At the back?” Kid suspected there was. Something warm had trickled down his shoulder blade and now glued his shirt, painfully, to his skin.

“You’ll have to lean forward.” Kid groaned as he did so and Ruth saw another hole in his body. “It went through.”

She placed a dressing over the back wound and nervously applied pressure. Kid flinched and cried out.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Do what you have to stop the bleeding. At least they won’t have to dig the bullet out.” He held his breath.

Ruth dressed the entry wound next, but fumbled to keep the dressing in place.

“Can you hold this?”

Kid placed his hand over the pad, holding it steady. Seeing the blood already soaking into the dressing Ruth prepared another.

“If I could fix it in place…” She looked at Gideon, but his attention was focussed on the store keeper and the supplies he had piled on the counter. Frank watched the street out of the window. “What else can I do?” Ruth whispered, as she secured the dressing. “I could make a run for the door.”

“No! They’re nervous enough as it is. We’ll get out of this, don’t worry.”

“I heard what he said; about taking me with them.”

“They won’t take you. I won’t let them.”

“But how?”

“My partner’s out there. He’s always telling me he’s a pretty smart fella. I happen to agree with him. He’ll think of something and so will we.” Kid gave her a reassuring smile.

“Thank you, for trying to give me some hope.”

“My pleasure. It’s not often I meet such a pretty nurse.”

“I’m going to assume this sweet talk is just the blood loss talking.”

“Don’t you believe it, ma’am?” Kid smiled and then grimaced as she tightened the bandages around his chest.

“Sorry.”

“All right lady, you’ve done enough, get away from him,” Gideon snapped.

Ruth looked at Kid and he nodded. The wound was covered and there was no sense arguing with the men. She moved back along the counter, leaving the spare dressing on the floor beside Kid.

***

Having moved back across the street, Heyes and Sheriff McKone sheltered behind a wagon, watching the store. A deputy, crouching low, ran up to them.

“Our men are at the back now. They have no way out, sheriff.”

“Good work, Sam.”

McKone looked at Heyes and noticed the thoughtful expression on his face.

“Something wrong, Mr. Smith?”

“Once they know they’re trapped…”

“What?”

“Just thinking.”

“Speak your mind, son.”

“It’ll make them desperate. Desperate men do dangerous things. I think you should keep your men hidden.”

“I see your point but there is no way I’m letting them rob the store, shoot a man and get away with it. And I’m not letting them leave town with Ruth.”

“You don’t have to; you just have to let them think they are.”

McKone’s curiosity was raised.

“Let’s hear what you have in mind.”

“What can they take from the store?” Heyes could see the sheriff was confused. “I mean it’s not as if they were robbing the bank. They’ll get a few dollars at most? And what else? They can’t carry much on horseback. So they can take enough supplies to fill their saddle bags, maybe load up a mule. Would the town be willing to cover that? Is it worth letting them go for the sake of the hostages?”

“I don’t hold with letting criminals escape,” McKone stated flatly.

“You don’t have to. You just need them to think they’re getting away. Once they’re out in the open they’ll be easier to capture, providing you can get the woman away from them. It’s either that or go in guns blazing.”

Sheriff McKone gave another heavy sigh. He didn’t like either alternative.

***

They had been sitting there for what seemed like hours. Kid’s shoulder hurt, his head ached and his butt was numb from sitting for so long on the hard wood floor. His throat was parched, he felt nauseous and he knew the blood loss was dehydrating him. He’d had better days.

“Could I have some water?” Kid croaked as he met Gideon’s gaze. “I’m not feeling so good.”

Ruth looked at him with concern; his face was pale. She turned to Gideon.

“I think we could all do with a drink. Please. I’ll help him.”

Gideon stopped shoving packages into his saddlebags and glanced at Neilson.

“You got water down here?”

“In the back.”

“Frank, go with her.”

The younger brother motioned to Ruth to follow him. Moments later, Ruth returned with a pitcher of water and glasses. She placed them the counter and poured a drink. Kneeling beside Kid she held out a glass. Kid raised his blood covered hand, took the water and held it to his lips and drank, desperately, emptying the glass in one long swallow.

“Thanks.”

Ruth placed a hand on his forehead. He was cold but sweating. She knew that people could go into shock from a bad wound but wasn’t sure what the symptoms were.

“Got anymore water?” Kid asked.

“I’ll get you some. Is there any…”

“Get over here, girl!” Gideon commanded.

She reached for Kid’s glass and he saw the fear in her eyes. His hand covered hers.

“I won’t let them hurt you,” he whispered.

“And how will you stop them?” He didn’t have an answer for her. She stood up and returned to the counter.

“We could use a drink too,” Frank told her as she poured Kid another glass.

“Got anything stronger?” Gideon asked Ike. The store keeper nodded and reached under the counter. There was the sound of guns being cocked. “Don’t try anything!”

Neilson froze, and then slowly raised his hands.

“I keep the whiskey under here.”

Frank went behind the counter to look where Neilson reached. He grinned and pulled out a stone bottle.

“Looks like he’s been holding out on us, Gid.” Frank pulled out the cork and tilted the bottle to his lips. After a long drink he gave a satisfied sigh, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Moving to the counter, Gideon took the bottle from his brother.

“There’s time to get drunk when we’re safe outta here.”

Watching them out of the corner of her eye, Ruth knelt beside Kid, handing him the replenished glass.

“If they get drunk…” She didn’t want to think what they might do then.

“They’ll get careless,” Kid told her.

“Or violent.” She was worried for her own safety, with good reason.

“Ma’am…”

“Don’t make me any promises, Mister Jones. You’re in no state to keep them.” She patted his arm affectionately then returned to the counter, moving closer to Neilson, as if transferring her faith for protection to him.

***

“Does everyone know what to do?” McKone asked, as his deputy returned to the safety of the wagon.

“Yes, Sheriff. I split the boys up and they’ll wait for my signal.”

“Good. Now we just have to wait for their next move.”

Heyes didn’t like the idea of waiting, not with Kid lying in the store with a bullet in him, but what else could they do? A tall, grey-haired man, in a dark grey suit, hurried along the boardwalk, his eyes darting back and forth to the general store. When he got closer he crouched beside Heyes and the lawmen.

“Bob what are you doing here?” McKone asked.

“Finding out what you’re doing about freeing my daughter,” Robert Wilmington stated gruffly.

“We can’t rush these things, Bob.”

“You mean you don’t have a clue what to do!” Ruth’s father snapped. “If it’s a matter of money, you know I’ll pay any ransom they demand.”

“They’re not asking for a ransom.”

Wilmington turned to look at Heyes, having spared him no more than a cursory glance until now.

“Who are you?”

“Name’s Joshua Smith and my partner’s in there too. They’ve already shot him; we don’t want that to happen to your daughter.”

Heyes’ words had a sobering effect on Wilmington.

“I’m sorry. I…I’ve forgotten my manners. I just want Ruth back, safe.”

“Don’t worry, Bob we’ll get her out.”

“Just make sure it’s before they harm her…in any way.” His meaning was not lost on the men.

“Sheriff?” Heyes turned his gaze to the lawman. “It’s your decision.”

***

“We got everything?” Gideon asked as his brother stuffed the last items into their saddlebags.

“Yeah.”

“The money?”

“It’s in your bags, Gid.”

“Good.” Gideon turned to face their hostages. “Well folks, it’s been nice knowing you but it’s time we were leaving.” He held out his hand towards Ruth. “Get over here, little lady, you’re comin’ with us.”

Kid saw the fear in her eyes.

“Please, I don’t want…”

“YOU IN THE STORE!”

Frank looked at his brother. Gideon gave a sigh and walked to the door.

“WHAT?” he snapped.

“You’re free to go,” Sheriff McKone told him. “Take what you need and ride out. I won’t stop you.” That was true, the sheriff wouldn’t be the one to do it. “Just don’t hurt the hostages and leave the lady here.”

“You ain’t makin’ the rules, sheriff!”

“Go while we’re giving you the chance.”

“Oh we’ll go but I think this pretty lady will make sure you don’t follow us.” He moved away from the door.

“Boys, you got what you came for, let her stay here, please,” Ike pleaded.

“She’s our ticket out of here, old man, ain’t no one firing at us while she’s with us,” Gideon told him.

“Come on!” Frank held out his hand but Ruth stood perfectly still.

“Leave her, alone!”

All eyes turned to look at Kid.

“What are you gonna do if we don’t? Bleed on us?” He turned back to Ruth. “Get over here. NOW!”

Ruth cast a glance at Kid as he struggled to pull himself into a sitting position.

“Do it girl or I’ll put another bullet in pretty boy there and this time he won’t need bandaging.” Ruth walked swiftly towards Frank. He grabbed her by the arm, picked up his saddlebags and headed to the back room.

***

“You’d better be right about this, young man,” the sheriff said, anxiously.

Heyes hoped so too.

McKone fixed his gaze on the general store. Then he set off along the boardwalk, with Heyes on his heels.

***

Placing his hand on the counter, Kid hauled himself to his feet. He met Neilson’s gaze.

“Give me a gun.”

“I don’t…”

“Every store keeper I ever knew has one under the counter. I doubt you’re any different.”

Embarrassed, Neilson reached beneath the counter, brushing aside a blanket. He held out the Colt to Kid.

“I didn’t want to…I thought…”

“It’s all right. You did the right thing. If they knew you had it, they might have shot you too.” Kid opened the chamber, checking the bullets. “I take it this thing fires?”

“Yes…I mean…well it did last time I…”

Without another word Kid pushed off the counter and headed to the back room. Neilson glanced down at the bloody handprint, Kid left on the wood.

***

“You men keep back or we’ll shoot her!” Frank called. Ruth gave a squeak of fear as Gideon pulled her closer, his gun waving frighteningly near her face.

Heyes crouched behind a barrel watching the men in the doorway. They held the young woman in front of them as a shield. Sheriff McKone watched them too.

“Tell them we’re heading for our horses. If one of them so much as moves, she’d dead.” Frank grinned at his brother and yelled out exactly what he’d said. Gideon felt Ruth trembling in his grip but he just held her tighter.

“You go first, Frank.”

Cautiously the younger man stepped outside. When he decided it was safe, he walked towards the three horses tied to the hitching post. He threw his saddlebags over the back of one animal, then secured another beside it. Gideon threw out a third bag and Frank picked it up and tied it to their spare horse. He looked around, spotting several men cowering behind boxes and barrels or in the alleyways. He smiled. With the girl as protection they wouldn’t do a thing.

“Okay Gid, you can come out!” he called. Gideon gave Ruth a smile. It was time to go.

“Take one step and I’ll blow a hole in you.” A gun hammer clicked.

Ruth gasped at the familiar voice behind her and felt Gideon tense.

“Don’t be stupid, I’ll kill her,” was all the older man could think to say as he felt the hard gun metal press against his back.

“My fingers are twitching on the trigger. Let her go.” Kid’s voice did not waiver and Gideon detected a hard edge to the man he had thought so helpless not moments ago. “I don’t feel so good. The last thing I do might be to kill you.”

“Gid?” Frank’s anxious call echoed off the buildings.

“What’s it to be?” Kid asked, pushing the gun a little harder.

Gideon turned his head and caught Kid’s eye. There was no mistaking the man meant what he said.

“Gid?”

Gideon swallowed hard. The gun jabbed into his back. Reluctantly he released Ruth. Kid pulled her quickly away and behind him, letting Gideon run out the door.

“Oh thank you, thank you so much!” Ruth hugged Kid tightly.

“Ma’am, I…”

Something in his voice made her pull away. His eyes were half closed as he looked at her.

“Mister Jones?”

Kid’s knees buckled and the world went black before he hit the floor.

***

The front door flew open as the sound of horses hooves pounded in the dust.

“RUTH!” Wilmington bellowed as he glanced around the store. A head appeared, nervously, from behind the counter. “Ike, where’s Ruth?”

“They went out the back. They took her!”

Wilmington headed towards the back room, and then stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of the young woman, the front of her dress covered in blood, kneeling beside an unconscious man.

“Ruth?”

“Oh, Daddy!” She flew into her father’s arms.

The sheriff burst through the back door with Heyes at his side. Heyes dropped to his knees next to Kid, the colour draining from his face.

“Thaddeus?” There was no response from his friend.

“He stopped them from taking me,” Ruth told them. “He stopped them.”

“Are you hurt?” The sheriff asked her, his voice filled with concern.

“No, it’s not my blood.”

No one had to ask, one look at Kid, and they knew where the blood had come from. Heyes placed a hand on Kid’s arm, relieved to see him breathing. There was the sound of footsteps and Horace Klinsman, the doctor, appeared in the doorway. Heyes moved to one side. The doctor snapped open his bag and rummaged inside for his stethoscope.

“Doc?” Heyes asked, impatient to know the man’s professional opinion of what looked so bad. The medic made a quick assessment of Kid’s injury.

“Let’s get him out of here.” He looked up at Wilmington.

“The hotel’s closest, I’ll organise a room.”

“I’ll get what I need and meet you there.” The doctor stood up. He could tell from the look in Heyes’ eyes that the man needed to hear more, unfortunately at that time he couldn’t tell him anything. He turned to look at two large men at the front of a small crowd standing in the doorway. “Tom, Evan, can you help carry him?” They nodded and stepped forward, lifting Kid’s body between them. Heyes bent down and picked up Kid’s hat. Then he turned and followed them, once more Kid’s life rested in a stranger’s hands.

***

Sweat covered Kid’s forehead. His breathing was rasping and laboured. A red stain marked the dressing at his left shoulder and his face was pale and drawn. Heyes sat in a chair across from the bed, watching his friend breathe, and turning Kid’s hat round and round in his hands. The doctor had only just left, having done all he could. Once again it was a matter of waiting. How many times had he done the same thing? A different hotel room, a different chair, a different doctor but a familiar stain seeped into a dressing covering another gunshot wound. Too many wounds. How much longer would it be before one bullet, maybe this bullet, claimed Kid’s life?

Kid gasped for breath and Heyes looked up. Kid’s hand gripped the sheet as he fought a wave of pain. Heyes stood up and walked over to the bed.

“Take it easy partner. You’re gonna be okay.” He hoped it wasn’t a lie. Kid showed no sign he even knew Heyes was there.

***

“Mister Smith?”

Heyes woke as a hand on his arm, gently shook him. Opening his eyes, he saw Doctor Kilnsman standing in front of him. Fear gripped him.

“What’s wrong?”

The doctor smiled, to reassure him.

“Nothing. I just came back to check on Thaddeus.”

“Is he okay?”

“Still sleeping. I’ll change the dressing. Why don’t you go and get something to eat?”

“I’m fine, Doc.”

“We both know that’s not true. I’ll stay with him. Go on.” Heyes cast a glance towards his sleeping friend and headed for the door.

***

Ruth found Heyes outside the hotel room, his eyes closed, and his head leaning back against the wall. He let out a heavy sigh.

“Is everything all right?” she asked, as she reached the top of the stairs. Startled, he was annoyed with himself for not hearing her coming. First the doctor catching him asleep, now Ruth. He was losing his touch. “Mister Smith?”

He noted the concern in her voice.

“You startled me.”

“I’m sorry. Is Mister Jones all right?”

“The same. The doc’s with him, I just came out side to…” To what? Get away? To not have to face the truth? To not have to listen to his friend’s laboured breathing and wonder if he’d ever wake up again? He sure as heck hadn’t left to find food. He’d lost his appetite the minute he’d heard the gunshot in the store.

“Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air? I can sit with him when the doctor leaves.” She saw the hesitation on his face. “I’ll call you, if he wakes up. I promise.”

Heyes nodded, thanking her with a smile. Fresh air would be good. He headed down the stairs.

***

When the doctor left, Ruth settled herself into the chair Heyes had vacated. She looked at Thaddeus, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath, his hair plastered to his damp forehead and a small stain of blood on the fresh bandage at his shoulder. He had saved her life. Heaven only knew what those men would have done had they been allowed to take her with them. Thaddeus was hurt, possibly mortally wounded, and yet somehow he had found the strength to risk his life to save her. She sighed. If a woman’s adulation alone was enough to heal his wounds Kid would be well by the morning.

***

Sheriff McKone found Heyes rocking back and forth in a chair, on the porch, in front of the hotel. He was making his rounds, as the sun began to set.

“Evening Mr. Smith. How’s your young friend doin’?”

“He’s still not awake.”

“These things take time,” the lawman mused. He leaned against the porch rail. “I guess you heard we caught them? My deputies stopped them at the edge of town.”

“Mr. Wilmington informed me.”

“They’re down at the jail now. Got ‘em in separate cells, complaining about their treatment and pleading innocence. Seems they only did it for their wives and children, except my deputy found out they don’t have any children. They’re not even married,” he scoffed.

Heyes didn’t reply. He had a feeling the sheriff had something else to say.

“They got me looking at my wanted posters,” McKone continued. “Just wondering if the Pointer brothers had caused trouble anywhere else.”

“Have they?”

“Not that I can see. Guess this was their first offence after all.” He was silent for a moment. “Read a couple of descriptions that sounded familiar, though.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” He reached into his waist band and pulled out Kid’s gun. “One of the brothers had this on him. Said it belonged to Mister Jones.”

“Thanks. Thaddeus will be glad to have it back.” He held out his hand but the sheriff kept hold of the gun.

“This is some fancy gun your friend carries. It’s got good balance. A reckon a man with a gun like that knows how to use it.” The sheriff studied it as he held it in his hand. “Him stepping in like that, to save Ruth took some courage.”

Heyes met the sheriff’s gaze.

“Or stupidity.”

The sheriff smiled and handed Heyes the gun. Heyes took it from him, tucking it into his own waistband.

“Depends on your view I guess.” The sheriff pushed his hat back on his head. “So does he?”

“Does he what?”

“Use that fancy gun well?”

There was no point denying it.

“Thaddeus knows how to use it.”

“How well?”

“He tells me he usually hits what he aims at.”

Neither man spoke for a long minute. McKone looked along the street, down at his boots and then back at Heyes.

“Those other descriptions I read…I ain’t heard about them two for a while.”

“Maybe they’ve given up doing whatever it is you read about.”

“Maybe they have. I’d sure like to think so.” The sheriff looked along the street again. “Well I’ll be finishing my rounds.” He stood up straight and stretched his back. “I’ll be seeing you, Mister…Smith.” He nodded to Heyes and walked away.

Heyes let out the breath he’d been holding and, when the sheriff was out of sight, headed back inside.

***

Ruth looked up from the chair when Heyes entered to the room. He smiled at her, removing Kid’s gun from his waistband as he did so. He placed it into the holster that hung on the bedpost. Kid would look for it when he woke up.

“The doctor changed the bandage,” Ruth told him as she stood up. “He said it was healing well.”

“I saw him when he left. He seemed hopeful.”

She moved to stand beside him.

“From what I’ve seen of your friend, he’s not a man to give up easily.”

“He’s not.”

“He saved my life.”

Heyes saw the way she looked at his friend, saw the adoration in her eyes. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at another young woman falling for his friend.

“Have faith in your friend.” Ruth placed her hand on Heyes’ arm. He turned to look at her. “He’s working on getting better, I’m sure of it.”

Heyes looked down at Kid, when Ruth left the room.

“You get yourself held hostage and shot and you still find time to get a woman to fall for you. Sheesh Kid, you amaze me, you really do.” His expression turned serious. “She better be right. You’d better be working on getting better.”

***

Two days. He had sat in the room for two days. Kid had barely moved.

“Will you just wake up!” Heyes snapped as he got to his feet. “You know it’s no fun for me sitting here day after day while you catch up on your sleep!” He looked at the bed. Nothing. No movement, no flicker that anything had registered. “Dammit will you answer me?”

“Mister Smith? Is everything all right?”

Heyes spun around to see Ruth standing in the doorway carrying a tray.

“Everything’s fine. I just…got a little frustrated.”

She entered the room and placed the tray on a table. Heyes saw it contained a glass of whiskey and a sandwich.

“I thought you might like something to eat,” she said as she stepped back. “I thought you might prefer something stronger than coffee.”

“Thank you.”

Ruth looked at Kid.

“He’s just taking his time, that’s all. Making sure he’s well enough to face you when he wakes up.”

“To face me?”

“Well if you’re as mad at him as you appear…”

Heyes relaxed his shoulders.

“I’m not mad at him. I’m just angry at life. We haven’t always made the right choices but he doesn’t deserve to…well he doesn’t deserve this.”

Ruth smiled sympathetically.

“I think I’ll take a walk before I eat,” Heyes told her. “Thanks for the sandwich, I’ll have it when I get back.”

“May I walk with you?”

Heyes held out his arm and Ruth linked hers in his.

***

“Is Mister Jones married?”

Ruth’s question brought a rueful grin to Heyes’ face.

“No,” he said as he started along the boardwalk again. They stopped to let a wagon go by before crossing the street.

“No girl he’s courting? No one special?”

“We move around a lot, there really isn’t time to make…acquaintances…like that.”

“Oh.” Ruth considered this. “So you’ll be moving on once Mister Jones is well enough?”

“Yes, we will.”

“That’s a pity.”

“You wouldn’t be falling for my partner would you?”

Ruth blushed.

“He saved my life.”

“Yeah, he does tend to do that now and then. Always riding in to save the day. Damsel’s in distress falling at his feet. His suit of armour’s a bit dented though.”

“Are you making fun of me, Mister Smith?”

Heyes smiled and looked into her brown eyes.

“No ma’am, just telling you the truth. Thaddeus isn’t looking for wife and we will be leaving once he’s able to.”

She tucked her arm in his.

“Then I shall have to make the most of it while he’s here.”

“Ma’am, he’s unconscious!”

She grinned and led him back along the boardwalk.

“In that case you’ll have to cover for him.”

She laughed at the shocked look on his face.

***

Kid slowly became aware of his surroundings. He was in bed; warm, soft sheets covered him. He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He didn’t recognise the room but it was certainly larger than the one they’d had at the hotel. His shoulder hurt and he tentatively touched it, feeling the fresh bandage. He was still woozy. Memories flooded back. The gunshot, the pain, the brothers holding them hostage, the fear in Ruth’s eyes, holding a gun on a man and then…?

The door opened and Hannibal Heyes strode into the room. Seeing his friend’s eyes open, relief washed over him and Heyes smiled.

“Well it’s about time you woke up.” He walked towards the bed. Kid looked confused. It took a moment for him to clear his head enough to formulate a sentence.

“Where are we?” he asked, weakly.

“The hotel.”

Kid’s eyes took in the décor.

“This ain’t our room.”

“It is now.”

“Huh?”

“The presidential suite.” Heyes gestured to the large room, with adjoining bathroom. “Well, the president hasn’t actually stayed here but if he did, this is where he’d sleep.” Kid still looked confused. “Ruth’s father was very grateful to you for looking after his daughter and insisted you have the best room to recover in.” Kid received a dimpled grin, before Heyes turned serious.

“So how are you?”

“Tired. I feel like…like I got hit with a sledgehammer…in the shoulder.” Kid’s eyes lacked their usual sparkle, his skin was pale, his eyelids heavy.

“I figured as much.”

“Did they catch ‘em?”

“The brothers?”

“Yeah.”

“They caught them on the edge of town. The sheriff has them in jail, waiting for the judge to arrive.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Nearly three days.”

“It was bad, huh?”

“You lost a lot of blood.”

“You okay?”

“Me?”

“I know you worry.”

“About you?” Kid smiled, waiting. Heyes looked as serious as he could. “It was just a scratch,” he said dismissively.

“Hmmm.” Kid yawned. “What happened?” He yawned again.

“You should get some rest. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

Kid didn’t argue with him, just nodded and closed his eyes.

***

Ruth sat down gently on the edge of the bed. Kid opened his eyes. Ruth smiled and Kid smiled back.

“Well you’re a darn sight prettier to wake up to than Joshua.”

“How are you?” Ruth asked.

Kid pulled himself up and rested back against the pillows.

“I feel good.” He rolled his shoulder. “Feels fine.”

“Liar.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I saw you flinch.”

Kid smiled.

“Guess I can’t fool you.” She smiled back. “How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Now who’s not telling the truth?” She met his gaze but didn’t say anything. “It was pretty scary wasn’t it?”

“Yes. I thought they’d…well I’m glad it’s over. And that’s all thanks to you.”

Kid held up his hands.

“Hey don’t give me any credit. The sheriff and his men had it all worked out.”

“But you saved me.”

He saw the look in her eyes.

“Ruth, don’t go making me out to be a hero. I was as scared as you and blood loss makes you do crazy things. I could have endangered your life.”

“He’s right.” They looked up as Heyes entered the room, carrying some clean clothes. “It was a stupid thing to do. Considering his injury and how desperate the men were, you’re both lucky to be alive.”

He gave Kid a look as Ruth got to her feet.

“Well I think he was very brave.” She moved closer to Kid and leaning over, kissed him firmly on the lips. “Thank you.” Ruth turned, smiled at Heyes and left the room.

Kid gave his partner a smug smile.

Heyes threw his clothes at him.

***

Three days later, Hannibal Heyes watched as Kid pulled himself slowly into the saddle, a grimace on his face.

“You okay?”

Kid looked across at him.

“Yeah.”

“Still hurting?”

“What do you think?” Kid straightened himself in the saddle.

“Did you say goodbye to Ruth?”

Kid smiled.

“I’ll take that as a yes. No accounting for some women’s taste.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“Huh!”

“Mr. Jones!” Ike Neilson came running towards them from the direction of the general store. He held up a brown package. “I forgot to give you this.” Pausing beside the blond man’s horse he looked up at Kid, who pointed to Heyes.

“Actually it’s for my partner.”

Ike turned and handed the parcel to Heyes.

“You two have a safe journey and remember you’re welcome in Rumsford anytime.” Kid touched the brim of his hat to the man and Ike headed back to his store. Heyes looked suspiciously at the object in his hand and then at Kid.

“Open it,” Kid instructed. Heyes did so and discovered the book he’d wanted. His gaze met his partner’s

“I figured it would keep you quiet on the trail. Take your mind off fussing over me.”

“I don’t fuss.”

“Whatever you say, partner.”

Heyes looked at the book again and smiled.

“Thanks.”

He received a nod in reply. Heyes tucked the book into his saddle bag. With a pull on the reins they turned their horses towards the edge of town. When they reached the top of a hill some miles from Rumsford, Kid pulled his horse to a halt and turned to his friend. Kid looked thoughtful.

“What is it?”

“I just realised, something.”

“What?”

“I forgot to get the coffee.”

Heyes grinned.

“I guess we’ll survive.”

“Yeah, Heyes, we do seem to.”

Heyes nodded, yeah, they sure did.

THE END

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