Kid’s New Hat
By Maz McCoy
“Kid!” Heyes yelled and turned his horse towards the spot where his partner had disappeared in a dust cloud beyond the stampeding herd. Heyes rode the horse flat out to reach his friend’s side, dropping from the saddle before the animal had come to a halt.
“Kid?” Heyes said as he reached the inert, dust covered form of his partner. Suddenly the blond man blinked and coughed a couple of times. Heyes gave a sigh of relief as Kid looked up at him.
“What happened?” he asked, still a little dazed.
“Your horse threw you,” Heyes explained, as he watched Parker’s herd thunder into the distance. They had taken a job driving a hundred head of cattle for a rancher, named Gordon Parker, to a buyer in Greenville. It was their last day and some of the men had let their guard down. Something spooked the herd and then all hell broke loose.
Kid sat up, rubbing dust from his eyes. Heyes helped him to his feet, brushing the dust off his friend’s clothes as Kid stretched a few bruised muscles.
“I’m okay Heyes,” Kid said, grateful for his friend’s concern. “Just winded.” He spotted his horse standing quietly, some way off. Heyes held out Kid’s hat to him. Kid hit it against his leg a couple of times removing more dust. It had taken a bit of a battering and then he noticed a tear where a steer’s hoof had caught it.
“Looks like you need a new hat,” Heyes remarked.
“Nope, I‘ll fix it up. I like this hat,” Kid told him.
A week later Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes had left the relative safety of the cattle drive and found themselves with a posse on their tail, riding for their lives once more. Despite Heyes’ assurance to his partner that the posse would not be able to follow them once they left a wide shallow river, the posse had not given up. Bullets flew about them, and one knocked Kid’s hat off. Fortunately the string was still around Kid’s neck and he didn’t lose it. They kept their heads down and rode on; praying that they would lose the men on their tail.
Sometime later, after finally shaking off their pursuers, the two young ex-outlaws rested their horses on a ridge above a small ranch house. Kid watched as a wisp of smoke rose from the stone chimney, wondering if they might be able to buy some food from the rancher’s wife. His stomach was rumbling and it had been a long time since either man had had a decent hot meal. Kid removed his hat and studied it. He put his finger through the bullet hole and sighed. His hat was beginning to look more than a little worn. He’d managed to sew up the hole made when it was trampled in the stampede, now he had another one to deal with.
“I told you Kid,” Heyes said, as he leaned forward in the saddle, his arms resting on the saddle horn. “You need a new hat.”
“And I told you Heyes, I like this one,” Kid said stubbornly. His partner shook his head and smiled. Heyes urged his horse forward and they descended the hill towards the ranch.
The wind was gusting as they rode into Mudlake, an aptly named town since the water level in the lake outside of town had fallen several feet in the last few years. Heyes pulled the collar of his coat up against the wind and adjusted the bandana over his nose and mouth, as dust blew in his face. He squinted to see the buildings ahead. Beside him, Kid took off his hat, then resettled it on his head, angling it against the wind. Before he could adjust the strap a gust of wind blew his hat off and it went tumbling back along the street.
Kid turned his horse and set off after it. He jumped from his saddle and reached down to pick up his hat when another gust blew it out of reach.
Heyes waited on his horse, watching with amusement as his partner chased his hat along the main street. There was another gust of wind and a cursing Kid Curry set off again after the tumbling brown hat. Then the wind died suddenly and the hat dropped to the ground, falling on top of a pile of fresh horse manure.
“Oh typical,” Kid muttered and at that moment, a local rancher named Walter Duncan drove his wagon into town. One of the front wheels ran over Kid’s hat squishing it down into the soft brown pile. “Hey!” Kid yelled but Walter did not hear him. Kid stood and looked down at his hat, crushed in a squelchy heap as the wagon drove off.
Further down the street Hannibal Heyes was doing his best not to laugh at his partner’s misfortune. He wasn’t succeeding.
Kid bent down and picked up his hat. He walked back to his horse, his hat between his fingers, held at arms length.
“Kid, it really is time you got a new hat,” Heyes told him, leaning forward in the saddle, as he lowered his bandana from his mouth.
“I can wash it,” Kid stated.
“Kid,” Heyes said, gently and two blue eyes looked up at him. “It’s time to get rid of it. That has become one unlucky hat. I think the Hat God is trying to tell you something.”
“The Hat God?” Kid rolled his eyes. “What book d’you read that in?” he asked, derisively.
“Will you shut the damn window!” Kid complained.
“Not while you insist on having that thing in this room,” Heyes told him, as he waved a hand at Kid’s dripping hat, hanging on the bed post in their hotel room.
“I washed it,” Kid reminded his partner.
“Yeah, but it still smells. You are not gonna put that back on your head,” Heyes stated. “Kid it really is time for you to get a new hat.”
His blond-haired partner looked up at him from where he sat on the edge of the bed.
“I like my hat. It’s like a friend,” he stated.
“Yeah, well your friend is gettin’ old Kid.”
“So, should I get a new partner when you get old?” Kid asked and Heyes gave him a look.
“Anyway it doesn’t fit you anymore,” Heyes told him and Kid gave him a questioning look. “I think your head’s got bigger. It’s been sitting higher and higher on your head lately,” Heyes said.
“My hair has grown,” Kid told him, patiently.
“Why don’t you take a look in the store tomorrow?” Heyes suggested. Kid just sighed and gave his battered and now dripping hat, a fond look.
The next day Kid stood reluctantly looking up at a row of cowboy hats in Derek Chandler’s General Store. Heyes stood a little to one side leaning against the wall, his arms folded across his chest. He ran his eyes along the row, trying to picture his partner in a white Stetson, a wide brimmed black hat, a homburg or maybe the little child’s hat at the end. He suppressed a smile. Heyes looked at his partner, who still held his old hat in his hand.
“Can I help you sir?” Chandler asked. He was a thin man with thinning hair.
“I need a new hat,” Kid told him and Chandler caught a sudden whiff of stale manure on the hat in Kid’s hand.
“Yes, yes indeed,” he agreed. “Shall I dispose of this for you?” he asked, reaching for Kid’s hat.
“Please do,” Heyes said, pushing off the wall, to stand beside his friend, before his partner could object. “And can we see all the hats you have in brown?”
“Of course sir,” Chandler said as he prised the hat from Kid’s fingers. Kid watched, as his hat was carried away.
“Let it go, Kid,” Heyes said quietly beside him.
A selection of brown hats was placed on the counter in front of the blond man. Kid tried one on. It dropped over his head to rest on his nose. Too big. The next sat too high on his curly hair. Too small. Kid dismissed the next two offered to him. One had too wide a brim, the other was too fancy. There were only two left and then Kid’s eyes fell on a soft, floppy brown one, with a buckle band. From the look in his eyes, Heyes could tell his partner liked it.
Kid put it on and looked at himself in the mirror Chandler had provided. It sat just right. He tilted it back on his head, casual. He pulled it low over his face, mean and moody. Heyes hid a smirk. Kid turned to his partner.
“What do you think?” he asked. “I think this one is okay.”
“Looks good on you,” Heyes admitted. “D’you like it?”
“Yeah. I like it,” Kid stated, as he shot another admiring glance at himself in the mirror. Mr. Chandler and Heyes exchanged a smile.
“How much?” Heyes asked and Chandler told him. “We’ll take it,” Heyes said, pulling the money from his pocket.
“Heyes,” Kid whispered, when the store keeper had gone to get Heyes’ change. “What are you doing?”
“I’m buying you a new hat.”
“I can pay for it,” Kid told him.
“I know, but I’m buying my best friend a present. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, thanks partner.”
When they left the store, Kid adjusted his hat against the glare of the mid-day sun. A pretty young girl of about fifteen was waiting outside the store. She looked up when she saw the two young cowboys and her eyes fell on the blond man in the floppy, brown hat. She stared at him open mouthed. He was very handsome. Kid noticed the young girl looking at him and gave her a wink.
“Ma’am,” he said and she blushed, a deep red, before her eyes dropped to the floor in embarrassment.
“Annabella!” a female voice snapped. An older woman hurried along the boardwalk. Her eyes fell on the two young cowboys and on one in particular; a blond man in a floppy, brown cowboy hat. She ran her eyes quickly over him, liking what she saw. He reminded her a little of her late husband. Kid smiled at the woman, who was most likely the young girl’s mother.
“Ma’am,” he said, as he touched the brim of his hat. She smiled and nodded at him and then at his dark-haired friend, as she reached her daughter’s side.
Kid and Heyes walked past the ladies and Heyes smiled as he noted an extra swagger in his partner’s walk.
“Yeah Heyes, I like this hat,” Kid said with a smile.