By Maz McCoy
The battered wooden sign announced the name of the town as ‘Independence’. The two men rode past it, as a tangle of tumbleweed rolled across their path. Riding along Main Street their eyes focused on the small jail and the name written above the door, on a faded sign. Sheriff John Yates. They exchanged a glance. The dark-haired man shrugged. Neither could remember having any dealings with him before.
They pulled their horses to a halt in front of The Palace, the only saloon in town. Tired and dusty they eased themselves from the saddle. The younger man stretched, then led the way through the bat wing doors and towards the bar. Several men noted their arrival with interest; eyes followed their progress across the room. The bartender watched as they approached. He put down a cloth, donned his professional smile and walked towards them.
“What’ll it be fellas?” he asked, amiably.
“Two beers,” the older of the two ordered. They leaned back against the bar and surveyed the room. There were a couple of poker games in progress, a man was asleep at a far table and two women, way past being called girls, were doing their best to work the room.
“D’you see him?”
“Yeah. Table in the corner, playing poker. Black hat.”
The younger man looked to where his partner indicated, then turned back to the bar. “It’s a lot of money.”
“It sure is.”
“How d’you want to play it?” he asked, as he took a swallow of beer.
“Same as always.”
“Can I finish my drink first?”
His partner smiled.
When two empty glasses stood on the bar, they headed towards the man they were looking for; the poker player in the black hat. The younger man’s hand dropped to the gun at his side. Isaiah and Elias Berry were confident this was going to be the day, history would record, two famous bounty hunters, The Berry Brothers, shot dead the outlaw Hannibal Heyes in the town of Independence.
“You’re Hannibal Heyes,” Isaiah Berry stated. He stood facing the man seated at the poker table. The man looked up; two brown eyes focussed on the men standing before him.
“Am I?” He placed his cards face down on the table.
“We’re professional bounty hunters. You’re a wanted man and we’re taking you in.”
Elias drew his gun, pointing it at the man in the black hat. He drew the hammer back. The other players pushed their chairs back, moving, as far as they could, out of harms way.
“Who told you I was Hannibal Heyes?”
“We’ve been tracking you. I know who you are.” Isaiah was clearly confident he had the right man. He held the man’s gaze.
“Well, if you’ve been tracking me, then you’ll know that the man standing behind you is Kid Curry.”
“Nice try, Heyes.”
There was the click of the hammer on a Colt .45. Hannibal Heyes smiled.
“He’s pretty fast with that gun, but then, being professionals, you’d know that.”
“We still have a gun on you,” Elias reminded him.
“Think you can beat him?” The younger of the Berry brothers didn’t reply. “That’s a pretty big chance you’re taking if you’re wrong.”
Kid pushed the gun into Elias’ back.
“Put the gun on the table,” Kid said.
Elias looked to his brother. Isaiah still held Heyes’ gaze.
“Do it,” he told him, reluctantly. Elias placed his gun on the poker table and Heyes reached across for it.
“Now yours,” he told Isaiah. Slowly, the man drew his gun and placed it in front of him. Once again, Heyes reached across and picked it up. He collected his winnings, and then stood up, shoving the guns into his waistband. He looked at the other players. “I’m sorry I have to leave the game, gentlemen.”
Heyes walked slowly around the table. Isaiah, grim faced, stared straight ahead. Things had definitely not gone as he planned.
“We’ll be riding out now,” Heyes informed him, unnecessarily. “We can’t stop you following us, unless we kill you. We’d prefer not to have to do that, being peaceable-like, but sometimes my partner’s finger gets awfully twitchy on that trigger.” He smiled pleasantly, backing away from them.
When Heyes reached the door, Kid eased backwards, his gun still trained on the bounty hunters. When Kid reached the doors, then walked slowly outside, then broke into a run, heading for the livery stables.
“What the heck kept you?” Heyes demanded as he ran along side his friend. “He coulda shot me without a word!”
“I thought we should find out who they were first,” Kid yelled back as they reached the livery.
“Well, maybe you’d like to go back and chat a bit more?” Heyes grabbed his saddle and blanket.
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, you didn’t get shot did ya?” Kid threw the saddle over his horse and reached under the animal for the cinch.
“More by luck than anything else!” Heyes tightened the strap on his horse, then led it from the stable. The livery manager wandered in from the corral.
“You fellas leavin’ already?”
“Yeah, we hafta go,” Heyes pulled himself into the saddle.
“I can’t give you a refund. I know you paid in advance but…”
“Keep it!” Kid told him as he hoisted himself onto his horse. There was the sound of someone running. The partners exchanged a look and urged their horses out of the stable just as the Berry brothers ran into the livery. They were almost knocked down by the departing horses. Having obtained guns from the other patrons of the saloon, Kid and Heyes soon found themselves dodging bullets until they were thankfully out of range.