Lying in Wait
By Maz McCoy
Hannibal Heyes lay on his back looking up at the ceiling. Two long cracks in the plaster ran in opposite directions above him and intersected in the middle.
“X marks the spot,” Heyes mumbled.
“You say somethin’?” a gravelly voice asked.
“Nope.” Heyes let out a sigh and moved his legs. The chain clanked and the cold metal anklet pulled against his leg. He kicked out in frustration and the man sitting at the desk laughed. A chair was pushed back and a moment later a man in his late fifties stepped into view. He brushed crumbs off his vest revealing the sheriff’s badge pinned to his shirt. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth he reached out and gripped the cell bars. Sheriff Wilbur Berry looked at Heyes.
“Ain’t no use, son, you can shake ‘em all you like but those chains are stayin’ put.” Heyes met the other man’s gaze but remained silent. “Not long now afore you’re on your way to Wyoming. You should enjoy my company while you can, ‘stead a tryin’ to make a break for it.” Heyes turned his head away. Chuckling, Sheriff Berry shrugged, walked back to his desk, returning to the remains of his mid-day meal.
Heyes looked back at the ceiling. Tomorrow or maybe the next day a US Marshall was coming to take him to Wyoming. Tomorrow or the day after, he’d be taking the first steps on his way to the Penitentiary. They wanted to put him away for twenty years. They’d wanted to do that for years. Posters plastered across the West offered folk a reward for helping them. Now it looked like they were actually going to do it and he didn’t care.
Heyes rested a hand on his stomach and touched the fabric of his shirt with his fingers. He didn’t need to look down to know it was stained red. His pants were the same. The blood had dried now, the fabric felt different because… He shook his head. No point in letting his mind go there.
Swinging his legs over the edge of the bunk he sat up. He let his bare feet dangle for a moment. They’d taken his boots and socks. Reckoned his boots might contain something useful. If only they knew. Reckoned he might not try and run for it just ‘cos his feet were bare. The chain clanked. Only his right leg was shackled. He smiled in resignation. They considered him such a risk of escaping, rated his ability to pick a lock so high, that they had discussed how best to keep him in jail. The sheriff, the bounty hunter who had brought him in, and the deputy had stood outside his cell and scratched their heads until the bounty hunter had suggested shackling him. One shackle around his leg, the other around the cell bars. The three men had nodded in agreement. The bounty hunter had provided the means.
Heyes pulled the chain towards him so he could sit more comfortably, not that his comfort mattered any more. He rested his elbows on his knees and looked around the cell. The floor was dirty, covered in spots of who knew what. The blanket was moth eaten and the sheet a shade of white you could only call grey. The pillow had brown stains on it and something small and furry crawled along the ground under the opposite bunk. The Brown Palace, Denver, it was not.
He’d considered asking them to send a message to Lom Trevors. Wondered if they would let him, despite knowing Lom would never reach Griffin’s Hollow in time. In the end he’d decided against it. He didn’t need to see Lom’s face through the bars; didn’t need to hear that there was nothing he could do or that the Governor had finally abandoned him. Him, not them.
He didn’t need Lom’s sympathy either. The image came flashing back. Kid lying in his arms, bleeding.
Hannibal Heyes stood watching the trail down into the valley but turned at the sound of his whispered name. Kid sat with his back against the boulder, his head tilted to the left, arms loose at his side. His chest rose and fell in rapid succession. The front of his shirt was soaked in his own blood, a small tear in the fabric marked the bullet’s entry point at his left shoulder.
“How you doin’?” Heyes asked as he crouched beside his friend and tried to keep the fear he felt from showing in his eyes.
“Not so good.” Kid swallowed and took a deep breath before he spoke again. “You should go. Leave me.” His eyelids were heavy, his chin dropped towards his chest.
“We on this again?” Heyes sat down next to Kid. “I told you I’m not leaving you and I know you’d never leave me.”
“You got a – a chance to – get away. Take it.”
“You go. You can – get me out – later.”
“I’m not leaving, Kid, so forget it.”
A hand shot out and gripped Heyes’ wrist. “Please.” Heyes looked down at the blood covered fingers that held him. “Please, Han. For me.”
“Kid…” But a gasp from his friend cut him off and Heyes could only watch as his friend fought a wave of pain. It left him weaker each time. Kid’s eyes closed. “Kid?” His friend slid sideways and Heyes caught him. He was still holding him when the bounty hunter found them.
A bowl containing something that appeared to be stew slid under the cell door, propelled by a kick from the deputy, Stevie Jacobs. Heyes eyed the food with suspicion. He didn’t think they’d have done anything untoward to it; he just wasn’t sure what the heck was in it. Deputy Jacobs threw a spoon through the bars and it landed on the opposite bunk.
“Grub’s up, Heyes,” he informed the outlaw unnecessarily.
Hannibal Heyes didn’t move. The food steamed in the bowl. Chunks of something resembling meat floated amidst a greyish-brown liquid. Mmm, appetising. Despite his cynicism Heyes’ stomach betrayed him and rumbled. He stood up, the chain clanked and Deputy Jacobs reached for his gun. Heyes rolled his eyes and bent down to pick up the bowl.
“Don’t worry Deputy, I’ll give you fair warning before I make my move.” Heyes picked up the spoon and sank back onto his bunk. Stevie eyed him suspiciously for a while then turned his attention to a pile of Wanted posters on the desk. Heyes stirred the stew. Round and round the spoon went. Round and round. Round and round.
“You should get a new hat,” Kid announced as they rode beside a riverbank in the early evening sunlight.
Heyes shot a sideways look at his friend. “What?”
“You should get a new hat. That one’s old and battered; even got a hole in the front.”
Heyes’ jaw clenched, ready for an argument. “I like this hat.”
“Never said you didn’t, just reckon it’s about time you got a new one.”
“I am known for this hat. People see this hat and they know it’s me.”
“Well, ain’t that a good enough reason to get a new one? Seeing as we’re NOT trying to be recognised and all?”
Heyes didn’t have an answer for that and Kid smiled smugly. Heyes glared at him.
“I didn’t say anything!”
Heyes gave a heavy sigh and looked at his hat resting on the bunk opposite. Ever since Kid got himself a new hat, he’d been ribbing Heyes to ditch his old one too. At times it had irritated him. He’d give anything to hear Kid going on about it now. He looked down at the bowl and continued to stir the stew. Round and round the spoon went. Round and round. Round and round.
“Someone’s following us,” Kid stated.
Heyes looked across at his partner. “You’re getting paranoid in your old age.”
“Someone’s following us, Heyes.” Kid’s saddle creaked as he shifted to look behind them and Heyes did the same. Their eyes scanned the plain, then the distant trees and hills. Nothing moved. They sat side by side, motionless and waited. Still nothing stirred.
Heyes eyes narrowed. “Who? Who’d be following us? We’ve not been in a town for over two weeks.”
“I don’t know. I just know someone’s out there. Probably with a gun pointed at your back even as we speak.” Kid looked around at the trees off to their right.
Heyes looked at Kid then back over his shoulder. “I don’t see anyone.”
“That’s ‘cos they don’t want you to.”
“So how do you know they’re there?”
“Maybe I was Champeen Tracker of all Northern Utah.” Kid smiled and urged his horse on, all too aware of the look Heyes would be giving his back.
Heyes looked back once more. He couldn’t see anything different but he trusted Kid’s instincts. A feeling of unease crept over him. Someone was back there.
“I shoulda listened to you, Kid.” Heyes said as he continued to stir the stew. “I shoulda trusted your instincts.”
“What?” Jacobs’ head shot up from his posters.
“Wonderful stew,” Heyes replied and the deputy harrumphed before returning to his posters. “I shoulda listened.”
“All I’m saying is you could be wrong.” Heyes urged his horse to follow Kid’s into the shadow of the trees.
“I could be but I’m not.” Kid ducked his head as the horse passed under a low branch then, waving a hand, brushed the leaves away from his face.
“It just doesn’t make sense for someone to be following us.” Heyes dipped below the branch.
“Since when has anything that happened to us made sense?”
“Some things do.”
“Give me a minute.”
“Ha!” Kid urged his horse up a slight incline then held a branch out of the way.
“Being offered amnesty,” Heyes stated as he rode by.
Kid let the branch go slowly to avoid sending a scattering of leaves to the ground. “You think that makes sense?”
“Sure. We’re just as entitled as anyone else.”
“I agree we’re entitled. Just not sure it made sense.”
“Kid, the railroads were losing a lot of money ‘cos we were so successful. It paid the Governor to…
A shot hit a tree trunk nearby sending a shower of bark chippings into the air.
“Damn! I hate it when I’m right.” Kid kicked his horse deeper into the forest and Heyes made no argument about following.
Heyes placed the empty bowl on the floor. Despite its unappetising appearance the stew had been surprisingly edible. His stomach no longer groaned but the emptiness he felt inside remained. His head hurt too. A deep perpetual thump, thump, thump throbbed in his temples. Heyes touched his hair and felt the patch of dried blood. It was the least of his worries. He stood up and the deputy followed him with his eyes.
“I’m not going anywhere!” Heyes snapped angrily. He grabbed hold of the chain and pulled hard.
“Don’t do that!”
“What? Try to escape? Isn’t that what you all expect me to do? That’s why you chained me up isn’t it? ‘Cos you’re so convinced I’ll make a break for it?”
“Just sit back down.” The deputy pushed back his chair and stood up.
Heyes turned and the damn chain pulled at his ankle.
“Ahhhh!” Heyes yelled pulling harder on the chain that had no intention of breaking.
“I said don’t do that!” Stevie’s hand rested on the butt of his holstered gun.
Heyes continued to yank at the chain taking out his frustrations on the impossible task of breaking it.
“I’m warning you!” Stevie Jacobs drew his gun and approached the cell. “STOP THAT!”
Heyes ignored him.
“STOP THAT!” Jacobs aimed at the man in the cell. “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT!”
There was the ominous click as the deputy drew back the hammer. Heyes turned to face him. Jacobs would tell folks in the saloon, later, that there was no fear in Heyes’ eyes. “He didn’t care if I shot him. Heck I think he wanted me to shoot him.” Heyes pulled the chain once more as if daring the deputy to fire.
“Stevie, put the gun down.” The calming voice of Sheriff Berry cut through the tension. He closed the office door and walked towards the cell. “Stevie.”
“He’s trying to escape.”
“No, he’s just lettin’ off a little steam. Ain’t no way that chain’s about to break.”
“But he wouldn’t stop…”
“Just put the damn gun down! You can’t shoot a man for rattlin’ a chain!” Stevie turned to face the lawman. Realising the sense in what the older man said, Jacobs holstered his gun and looked from Heyes to the sheriff. Wilbur Berry looked at Heyes. “Mister Heyes you’re annoying my deputy. Would ya mind puttin’ the chain down?”
Breathing heavily, Heyes glared at both men as his hands tightened on the metal.
“I told you he won’t do it,” the deputy stated.
Dropping the chain, Heyes turned away.
“Keep movin’!” Kid called and Heyes did as suggested.
There had been more shots. Kid thought it was just one man but at this point Heyes didn’t really care. He probably had another hole in his hat, that last bullet was sure close enough. Just his luck to get a millinery critic with a gun. He’d felt the air move as the shot went by. Whoever was chasing them had pretty good aim or was damn lucky. Whoever it was had followed them into the trees, up a rise and down the other side. Now as they urged their horses higher once more and the trees thinned out, the shooting had started again.
“Who d’you think it is?” Heyes pondered.
“Why don’t you wait for him to catch up and ask him?”
“I think I’ll preserve the mystery.”
“Ain’t no mystery he don’t like us.”
“You reckon it’s a he?”
“Heyes, no woman would be shootin’ at me,” Kid called over his shoulder. “You perhaps but…” A shot hit a branch beside his head. “Yep, definitely a man.”
Two shots rang out in quick succession. Heyes lowered his head over the horse’s neck. “You sure you haven’t upset a woman? I mean some of the gals you like get real determined when a fella takes a shine to them.”
“I always leave my ladies with a smile on their face.”
“You sure they weren’t just laughin’ at you?”
There was another shot and Kid cried out behind him.
“Kid?” Heyes twisted in the saddle.
“Keep movin’ Heyes.”
“Just nicked me. I can ride so keep goin’.”
“Maybe we should…”
Lying on his back on the bunk, hands behind his head, Hannibal Heyes listened as the door to the sheriff’s office opened sending a cool breeze into his cell. He kept his eyes closed and his ears open. There was a mumbled conversation at the lawman’s desk; men’s voices speaking in hushed tones but Heyes couldn’t decipher what was said. Then heavy booted footsteps approached the cell. Now what?
Heyes pushed his hat up with one finger. Lom Trevors stood on the other side of the cell bars.
“What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you too.”
“Go home, Lom.” Heyes lowered his hat back over his eyes.
Lom studied him. Heyes was a mess. His clothes were stained with what looked like blood, his bare feet were filthy, that old battered hat dustier than usual and the several days’ growth of beard on Heyes’ chin was uncharacteristic too. It didn’t look as if he’d had a decent wash in a long time and what could only be dried blood was encrusted on the left side of his face. Dark circles under haunted eyes told of sleepless nights and painful memories. He looked like a man who’d stopped caring. Well he hadn’t, so Heyes had better sit up and listen.
“I just rode twenty hours non-stop to get here. My horse damn near died on me, so don’t you just lie there and ignore me!”
Heyes pushed his hat up again. “I didn’t ask you to come.”
“No, but you shoulda.”
Heyes gave a heavy sigh, swung his legs off the bunk, cussed as the chain got caught, then finally sat up. He looked Lom square in the face. “I don’t want you here, I don’t need you here.”
“And I know you’re lyin’ about both.”
Heyes shot to his feet. “I don’t want you here! Is that plain enough?”
“Too bad ‘cos I don’t run out on my friends.” Heyes glared at him. “And neither do you.” Lom’s tone gentled. “And neither did you.”
Heyes’ face clouded over. He grabbed hold of the bars with grime covered hands, closing his eyes as he did so. When he spoke it was barely more than a whisper. “Go home, Sheriff, there’s nothing for you here.”
“Gonna try and convince them I’m good ol’ Joshua Smith?”
“It’s too late for that but I’ll do what I can.”
Heyes looked up. “More talks with the Governor? Another two years to be good? Forget it, Lom. It means nothing to me now.”
Heyes jaw dropped, incredulous that Lom should ask. “Why? Are you serious?”
“Yes. Why are you giving up?”
“If you have to ask that you’re no friend of mine.” Heyes turned away dragging the chain behind him.
“What about Kid?”
Angry, Heyes spun around. “Leave him outta this!”
Heyes moved closer to the bars. “I swear, Lom, if you use Kid in this…”
“Use him? I want to include him. I still want amnesty for you boys.”
“And what use is it to him now?”
“Don’t raise your voice, Heyes or I’ll hafta ask your visitor to leave.” Sheriff Berry approached the cell. “Everything all right, Trevors?”
“It’s fine, Sheriff. Everything’s fine.” He shot a look at Heyes expecting his agreement. Heyes simply turned away. Lom watched as Heyes lowered himself back onto his bunk, and then sat with elbows resting on his knees, staring at the floor. Heyes looked…lost. “Heyes.”
Heavy sigh. “What?”
“I’ve seen Kid.” Heyes looked up at the Sheriff and he’d never seen such hurt in that man’s eyes.
“Keep goin’, I’m all right,” Kid insisted when Heyes pulled his horse alongside him. Blood soaked the front and back of Kid’s shirt on the left side. Two holes marked the entry and exit points of the bullet in his shoulder. Kid’s pale, sweat-covered face, shallow breaths and constant grimacing made him out to be a liar. He was anything but all right.
“Up there!” Heyes pointed to a gap between the rocks above the treeline. Reaching out he caught hold of the reins of Kid’s horse. “Hang on.”
“Shut up and hang on!” Heyes led the way up the incline, out of the trees and between the rocks, hoping it led to a place to hide; a place he could safely tend Kid’s wound; a place they could defend.
“Where is he?” Heyes kept his gaze firmly fixed on the floor of the cell. Lom watched as the knuckles of Heyes’ hands turned white as he gripped the edge of the bunk and swallowed hard. If he clenched his teeth any harder, to curb his emotions, he’d probably break some.
“Over at the doctor’s house.”
“They treat him okay?” The man fought to keep his voice under control.
“Will they let you take him home?”
Boy that floor sure must be interesting ‘cos Heyes hadn’t looked up once.
That got a response. Heyes looked at the Sheriff. “On what?”
“What the Governor decides.”
Heyes was on his feet again and striding towards the bars as the chain clanked behind him. “He has nothing to do with Kid now!”
“No, Lom! Take him home with you, please. Don’t let them take photographs and parade him in the street like…” The words caught in his throat. “Don’t let them do that. Take him home. Give him a decent burial. Do that for him, please. ‘Cos I can’t. I can’t.” Heyes gripped the bars his eyes pleading with the lawman he called a friend.
“Don’t move!” The deep voice boomed out of the undergrowth.
Heyes didn’t move. Kid lay still in his arms. He hadn’t moved for a long time. Neither had Heyes. He’d lost track of time. Lost track of the man who’d been shooting at them. Lost track of everything except the weight of his friend’s body slumped against his own.
When the man appeared from between the scrub bushes Heyes didn’t respond. The man was tall with a black hat held on by tightened stampede strings. His equally black moustache draped over the end of his chin almost Mexican style. Heyes didn’t recognise him or notice anything else except the gun pointed directly at him. It was a Schofield, much like his own weapon of choice.
“Raise your hands.” Heyes didn’t respond. “Raise your hands!” Heyes eyes met the man’s. He blinked as if seeing him for the first time. “Raise. Your hands.”
Slowly Heyes did just that, lifting blood covered hands into the air.
“Throw your gun over here.” The man indicated the spot with a wave of the Schofield. Heyes reached down. “Slowly. Remove it from the holster nice and easy.” Heyes obliged and threw the gun at the man’s feet. The tall man picked it up and tucked the Schofield into the waistband of his pants. “Step away from him,” he ordered. It took a moment for Heyes to realise what he meant. “Get up nice and slow and step away.”
“Don’t make me shoot you, son. Your Wanted poster says dead or alive and I ain’t particular which.”
“I’m not leavin’ him.”
“He’s dead. He won’t care if you let him go.”
“I’m not leaving him.”
“Neither am I. He’s worth $10,000 . So do as I told ya. Step away.” When Heyes didn’t move the bounty hunter stepped forward, gave Kid a shove with his foot. The blond man slumped sideways. Hannibal Heyes was on his feet and charging at the man before Kid stopped falling. The bounty hunter sidestepped and swung his gun in a short arc. It connected hard with the side of Heyes’ head and then Heyes felt nothing.
“Sheriff!” Deputy Stevie Jacobs called as he watched a man, leading two horses, head down the main street of Griffin’s Hollow towards the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Wilbur Berry appeared in the doorway adjusting his pants. “I gotta get me a new belt,” he muttered as he stepped onto the boardwalk. “This damn thing’s always…” He struggled with the buckle. “Maybe I should get suspenders instead.” He looked up at his deputy. “What’s up, Stevie?”
The deputy pointed. The stranger drew closer and they could see a body slung over each of the two horses he led.
“Who’s that?” Doctor Martin Oliver asked as he stopped beside the lawmen.
“Don’t know, Martin,” the sheriff informed him still watching the man approach.
The newcomer pulled his horses to a halt in front of them. “Mornin’, Sheriff.” He touched the tip of his battered black hat.
“Had some trouble?” Berry eyed the figures on the horses’ backs.
“I’m a bounty hunter. Name’s McNead. Clancy McNead. This here’s Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.” He jerked a thumb in their direction.
“Heyes and Curry?” The mention of the outlaw’s names raised the lawman’s interest. He stepped into the street and approached the horses as McNead dismounted.
“This one’s Heyes.” McNead grabbed a handful of dark hair pulling Heyes’ head up to reveal a blood covered face. “Had to give him a tap on the head but he’s alive.” He jerked a thumb at the next horse. “Curry took a bullet. He’s dead, but the reward’s dead or alive, so it don’t matter to me.” He looked at the sheriff. “Maybe we should get to that paper work?”
Wilbur Berry nodded. “We’ll have to confirm what you say first but I’ll get on it right away. Stevie, bring Heyes in and we’ll lock him in a cell.”
“What shall I do with Curry?” the deputy asked as he began to untie the ropes holding Heyes.
“Doc?” The sheriff looked at the medic.
“All right, I’ll take him. We’ll give him a decent burial. Tell Gus to drop by my office later.” The lawman nodded and headed inside his office with McNead following behind.
Doctor Oliver shook his head in resignation as he looked from one outlaw to the other. Blood that had run down Kid Curry’s un-gloved gun hand had dried in streaks. Out of habit the doctor caught hold of the man’s wrist and felt for a pulse. Always best to be sure the man you aimed to bury really was dead. He’d heard of a nasty incident a few years back when the corpse had woken up at the funeral. It had given the mourners a nasty fright and upset the widow something awful, seeing as she had already spent a lot of his money and agreed to marry another man. He shook his head. He didn’t want that happening in Griffin’s Hollow.
Gus Norton was the town’s unofficial undertaker as well as the blacksmith and carpenter. He’d make Curry a coffin and then… Wait a minute was that…? He frowned. No, it couldn’t be. He felt Curry’s wrist again. There it was. Weak, but definitely there. The familiar thump, thump, thump of a pulse.
“What?” Heyes looked up at Lom with disbelief.
“I said, Kid’s not dead. You keep talking about him like he’s dead but he’s not.”
“He died on my arms, Lom. Don’t think you can play some trick to get me to agree to whatever it is you…”
“HE’S ALIVE, DAMMIT!” Hannibal Heyes jaw dropped, Sheriff Berry looked up from his paperwork and Lom’s manner eased. “He’s over at the doctor’s house. I’ll admit he’s wavering between life and death but right now he’s breathing and in my book that counts as being alive.”
“He’s alive?” Kid was alive? Not dead. Alive. Heyes thought his own heart might have stopped beating. He certainly hadn’t taken a breath for a minute if two. He took a lungful of air. “Alive,” he said as if hearing the word out loud would make it true.
Lom nodded. “Yes.”
Heyes smiled. “He’s alive.”
“It’s gotta be a miracle.” Doctor Oliver stood next to Lom Trevors at the foot of the bed in which Kid Curry lay motionless. The bandage across the outlaw’s left shoulder was clean and showed no sign of the bullet wound but that was because the doctor had only recently changed it. A fine sheen of sweat covered Kid’s body. His face was pale as if drained of life. “A man can’t lose as much blood as he did and still be alive and yet…” The doctor waved a hand in Kid’s direction, “…Here he is.”
“He’s always been a stubborn man,” Lom informed him.
“That must be it. He’s refusing to give up.”
“Sounds like the man I know.”
“I wish more of my patients were like that. However, he’s not out of the woods yet. His temperature’s raised due to infection, but that’s to be expected considering the size and nature of the wound. He’s still not regained consciousness and there’s a chance he may never do so, but I’m keeping an eye on him and I’ll do what I can.”
“I appreciate that.”
The doctor turned his head to look at the lawman. “He’s a friend of yours isn’t he?”
“I thought I detected more than a professional interest.” The doctor placed his fingers gently on Kid’s wrist. He remained silent for a moment and then looked back at Lom. “His pulse is stronger. He’s breathing easier too. Why don’t you sit with him for a while? Tell him what’s going on. You’d be surprised the affect it can have.”
“Good or bad?”
“I guess that depends what you tell him.”
Lom smiled. “Thanks, I think I will sit awhile.” He pulled an armchair closer to the bed as the doctor headed towards the door.
“Just give a holler if you need anything. I make a passable cup of coffee.”
“Thanks, I’d appreciate that.” The doctor nodded and turned away. “Doc, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you realised he was alive.”
“Say that again when I give you my bill.” The doctor smiled and stepping out of the room closed the door.
Lom Trevors looked at Kid Curry. He was alive but only just. Lom had prepared himself for the day a telegram arrived informing him of the death of one or both of his friends. It was the nature of their chosen profession. He expected to hear that Kid had died at the hands of a faster gunman or following a shoot-out in a saloon in a no name town. And yet here he lay, shot by an unseen assailant as he rode away from completion of an honest job. Where was the fairness in that? And how many times had he sat by the bedside of one or other of them as they tried to go straight? Rhetorical question. He had no intention of counting. He looked back at Kid. “Well, here we are again.”
“I want to see him.”
“You can arrange it, Lom.” Heyes shot a look at Sheriff Berry who sat at his desk munching on an apple as he read the newspaper, apparently uninterested in their conversation.
Lom followed the direction of his gaze. “I think you over estimate professional courtesy.”
“I’ll agree to anything. Wear two damn shackles if it makes them happy, but I gotta see him, Lom. I got faith in you, Lom.”
“More than I have.”
“So you’ll do it?”
“You know he’s not awake?”
“Just let me see for myself he’s okay. Let me see he’s alive before they ship me outta here.” Lom seemed to hesitate. “I’m never gonna see him again, Lom. Get me this one last chance.”
The sheriff regarded his boots for a moment then nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.” He turned away then a thought struck him and he looked at Heyes. “I’ll get you a clean shirt.”
Hannibal Heyes stood in silence as Deputy Jacobs fixed the shackles around both of his, now booted, ankles. Outside the cell Lom Trevors and Wilbur Berry stood side-by-side, watching. The young lawman gave a tug, testing the strength of the heavy metal bonds. Satisfied he stood up and the chains clanked. Heyes held out his arms and the deputy attached metal bracelets around both wrists. The iron was cold against the outlaw’s skin, the edges of the metal sharp but he didn’t complain. He remained silent, passive, obliging. They had agreed to let him see Kid, probably for the last time and he would do nothing to jeopardise the opportunity. He’d washed and shaved and wore the new blue shirt Lom had bought. He was as respectable as a man in chains could be.
“Can you walk?” Sheriff Berry asked.
“I’ll manage,” Heyes assured him. He looked over at Lom and the sheriff gave him a nod. Lom was unarmed as part of the agreement of letting Heyes out.
“All right, let’s do this.” Wilbur Berry drew his Colt and waved Heyes out through the open cell door. Chains clanked and Heyes shuffled forward. Walking was awkward but he didn’t say a word. Deputy Jacobs stood by the front door to the sheriff’s office. “Stevie, you walk beside him. I’ll be at the rear. Trevors you walk in front. I want to remind both you gentlemen that there’s a bullet in the chamber of my gun and I got you both in my sights. No offence, Sheriff, but this man is your friend and I ain’t taking no chances. I’d have you handcuffed too if I thought it was necessary.”
“I understand,” Lom assured him. “There’ll be no trouble.” He walked out the open door and waited on the boardwalk for the others to follow. Heyes’ imminent arrival was announced by metallic clanking. The townsfolk of Griffin’s Hollow stopped to watch as the infamous outlaw Hannibal Heyes stepped onto the boardwalk. He shuffled towards the steps that led down into the street and took each one carefully. Hatless, Heyes squinted in the sunlight then lowered his gaze keeping his eyes on the dirt beneath his boots.
Clank, shuffle, clank, clank, shuffle. Hannibal Heyes made his way across the street following Lom Trevors and all too aware of the stares his presence received and the gun aimed squarely at his back. The sun was hot, his mouth dry and it seemed to take an eternity to cover the short distance across the street.
When they reached the other side Heyes raised his foot to step onto the boardwalk and stumbled. Instinctively, Lom stepped back to help him but both men froze when they heard the ominous click of a hammer.
“Easy, Stevie,” the sheriff warned as he drew back the hammer on his Colt. “Trevors, you wanna help him up nice and slow?”
Lom grabbed hold of Heyes’ arm and pulled him to his feet.
Heyes muttered a, “Thanks.”
“You all right?”
“All right, gentlemen, let’s keep moving,” Berry instructed.
Heyes shuffled on until finally they stood in front of the doctor’s office. Lom opened the door and they filed inside.
“Are these really necessary?” Doctor Oliver asked irritably pointing to the chains around Heyes’ legs as they stood outside the room in which Kid Curry lay.
“’Fraid so, Doc. I ain’t riskin’ him making a run for it.”
“That hardly seems likely.”
“You’d be surprised Doc. Heyes here’s known for being a silver tongued fella and cunnin’ as a fox. I don’t intend to take any chances that he’ll sweet talk me into turnin’ my back and lettin’ him slip away.”
The doctor met the lawman’s gaze. “Never thought of you as weak minded, Wilbur.”
“I could have an off day.”
“I guess you could. Very well.” The doctor turned to Heyes then frowned. “Have you had that looked at?” He pointed to the swelling on the outlaw’s left temple and frowned at the sheriff. “Wilbur? Why wasn’t I called to examine him?”
“You had ya hands full, Doc. Besides he ain’t complained about it.”
“That’s not the point. This man was unconscious. If I’d known he had a cerebral swelling…” He turned his attention back to Heyes. “Have you had any double vision? Headaches? Nausea?”
“Mister Heyes, I don’t think you realise how serious a head injury can be.”
“I understand perfectly. I have a few in my time but right now, Doc, I just want to see my friend.”
The doctor met Heyes’ intense stare and then nodded. “All right, but I am looking at that wound later.” He placed his hand on the door handle.
Hannibal Heyes stood at the side of the bed looking down at his friend’s still form. Kid appeared to be in a deep, if not especially peaceful, sleep. His chest rose and fell just enough to confirm he was alive. A bandage across his left shoulder showed no sign of the brutal wound Heyes knew lay beneath. A wound that had bled so badly he thought his friend had died. He shuffled closer.
“Hey, Kid.” He swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. The room and its other occupants faded into the background. “I thought you were dead. I mean you lost so much blood I jus’…” His words got stuck in his throat and he coughed. This was harder than he expected. Heyes looked around and spotting a chair nearby reached for it. The movement of the lawmen stopped him. “I just want to sit down.”
“All right,” Sheriff Berry agreed.
Chains clanked as Heyes pulled the chair closer and sat. He returned his attention to Kid. “I forgot you were so damn stubborn. Too damn stubborn to die, huh? I’m glad.” Kid gave no response. Heyes studied his friend’s face and the sheen of fevered sweat. “I ‘spose you know Lom’s here. The Governor might come through for us this time, who knows? Maybe we could start a ranch or buy that saloon we talked about. Might even marry you off to the daughter of the mayor.” Heyes reached out and took Kid’s hand in his. It was warm. “Don’t you give up.” He gave Kid’s hand a squeeze and his vision misted. He took several deep breaths.
“Heyes.” Lom’s voice seemed to come from way off. “Hannibal, it’s time to go.”
Heyes looked up at his friend. Lom nodded, it was time. Sheriff Berry had said he could see him, not visit for the afternoon. Taking one last look at Kid, Heyes gave his hand a final squeeze, then pushed back the chair and stood up with determination. “I’ll see you, Kid.” He shuffled from the room without a backward glance.
As Lom Trevors entered the saloon he scanned the occupants with a lawman’s trained eye. Farmers, clerks, a couple of cowboys and, at the far table sitting with his back to the wall, the man he was looking for. Lom caught the barman’s eye, ordered a beer, tossed a few coins on the counter then carried his drink over to the far table.
“Mister McNead?” he asked of the man in the black hat seated there.
The man looked up. “Who wants to know?”
“I’m Sheriff Lom Trevors of Porterville, Wyoming.”
“You’re a long way from home, sheriff.”
“That’s true.” He indicated a vacant chair. “Mind if I sit?”
McNead waved a hand at the available chairs. “Take your pick.” He watched as the sheriff pulled out a chair and sat. Lom took a long drink of beer and wiped his hand across his moustache to brush away the froth. “What can I do for you, sheriff?”
“It’s about the two men you brought in.”
“Curry and Heyes.”
“That’s still to be determined.”
“Not by me it ain’t and not if you’re the Sheriff Lom Trevors who used to ride with the Devil’s Hole gang.” He could tell he had surprised the lawman. “I do my homework.”
Lom studied him. “Do you believe in second chances?”
“Not if someone’s shootin’ at me.”
“What about in life?”
McNead’s eyes narrowed on the lawman. “We talkin’ about me or Curry and Heyes?”
“I suppose that depends on what sort of man you are.”
“One that’s about to be twenty thousand dollars richer.”
“Mister McNead can I buy you a drink?”
The bounty hunter sat back in his chair and gave a heavy sigh. “Something tells me that drink’s gonna cost me a darn sight more than it does you.”
Martin Oliver gently removed the bandage from Kid Curry’s shoulder and examined the inflamed flesh beneath. His stitching had held and with luck the wound would heal well. He dipped a small piece of cloth into a bowl on the bedside cabinet, squeeze off the excess and placed it over the wound. He eased Curry onto his side and repeated the process. When he had finished his ministrations for the exit wound he re-bandaged the young man’s shoulder. As he drew the white cloth tighter Kid gave a moan. Doctor Oliver stopped what he was doing and watched his patient’s face for a reaction. “Mister Curry? Can you hear me?”
There was no response but the man’s breathing was somewhat erratic. The doctor finished his job. He dropped the used bandage into the bowl then reached across and placed a hand on Kid’s forehead. He was warm; warmer than he would have liked but the man was fighting the infection that had set in so it was to be expected. He just hoped he could keep it under control. The doctor glanced across at the empty holster hanging over the back of a chair. He hoped Kid Curry was a fighter in more ways than one.
Oliver dried his hands, picked up the bowl and headed for the door. A gasp stopped him in his tracks. The doctor turned and found himself looking into two confused blue eyes. He returned to his patent’s side.
“Mister Curry.” There was obvious fear and pain in the eyes staring back at him. “You’re safe. Wounded, but safe.” This seemed to reassure the young man. “I’m a doctor. I’ll give you something to ease the pain.” He turned away, placed the bowl on a nearby table then searched among his things for the laudanum.
Doctor Oliver looked over his shoulder at Kid’s rasped words. Finding what he needed he moved to bedside. “Your friend is well.” Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. The doctor held a dropper to the young man’s lips. “Take this, it will ease the pain. You can trust me. You wouldn’t be alive otherwise.” Obediently the injured man’s lips parted and Oliver squeezed several drops into his mouth.
“I’ll get you some.”
Kid’s eyes closed and by the time the doctor had poured him a glass of water from the jug on the bedside cabinet the outlaw was asleep.
Hannibal Heyes lay on the bunk, hands behind his head; knees crossed at the ankle as he watched a cockroach make its way across the ceiling. Its antennae quivered as it sensed its way towards the far wall. Even a cockroach had more freedom than he did. He never thought he’d be envious of an insect.
Lom had been working on his behalf for the past few days. Messages were sent back and forth to the Governor’s office in Wyoming. The US Marshall destined to take him to the penitentiary had been redirected to another job. Hannibal Heyes stewed silently in a jail cell in Griffin’s Hollow and the metal anklet wore a red mark on his flesh. He didn’t rate Lom’s chances of success. He would end up in prison one way or another. Too many people knew he’d been captured. It was bound to be politically impossible for the Governor to set him free. Heyes realised he had become resigned to his fate. Kid was alive. That was all he had prayed for and having granted him that he could ask for no more.
Such had been the comings and goings over the last few days that Heyes didn’t even turn to look when the door to the sheriff’s office opened and someone walked in. Footsteps heralded the arrival of a visitor at his cell. He left the cockroach to its wanderings and looked over at the bars. Lom Trevors stood on the other side, smiling.
“What are you looking so happy about?” Heyes sat up and no longer responded to the annoying clank of the chain. “Well, spit it out Lom before you bust your gut.”
“He’s awake.” Lom didn’t have to clarify who he was talking about. Heyes’ eyes opened wide. “The doc just told me.”
Heyes couldn’t breathe properly. Between the smiles and the shock he forgot about ventilation. “Thank you,” he whispered before turning back to his friend. “When can you see him?”
“I’m on my way now but thought you should know first.”
“Thanks, Lom.” Heyes grinned. “Will you give him a message for me?”
Kid Curry opened his eyes to see a man silhouetted in the light of the window. His eyes dropped automatically to the outline of a gun hanging on the man’s hip. Tied down. Looked like a Schofield. The man was tall, broad shouldered and…he turned to face the bed. Lom? The sheriff smiled when he saw two familiar blue eyes staring at him.
“Lom?” Kid’s voice rasped.
Kid followed his friend with his eyes. Turning his head was too painful and any movement of his neck stretched the skin over his wounded shoulder. He’d uttered a few choice words the first time he’d tried it.
Lom stopped beside the bed. “How you feelin’?”
Lom smiled. “Means you’re still alive.”
“H – Heyes?”
Kid swallowed. “Where?”
Kid took several shallow breaths before he asked, “Hurt?”
“S’good.” Kid closed his eyes and Lom waited for him to fight the fatigue and pain. “This. Porterville?” He tried to remember what the doctor had told him but it was gone, lost in the haze of laudanum induced sleep. His eyes scanned the room but it didn’t look familiar. Not a room he’d been in before.
“No, this is Griffin’s Hollow.” Kid was clearly none the wiser. “Out of my jurisdiction.”
“Why you here?”
“I’m visiting you.”
“Lom, I don’t – have energy to – lift my head off – pillow, so – please…”
The sheriff took pity on his friend. “You were brought in by a bounty hunter.”
Kid frowned, trying to remember. “I can’t – remember what…”
“You were followed, shot at and you got hit. The man’s name is Clancy McNead and he knows who you are. Knows my connection to the Gang too.”
Kid closed his eyes as he listened. Lom saw the muscles in his jaw tighten. “We in trouble?”
“Ain’t you always?”
Kid took a deep breath and looked up at his friend. “We’ve tried, Lom.”
“I know.” Lom sat in the chair beside the bed. “And so will I. Right now all you have to worry about is getting back on your feet.”
“I told you. He’s safe. He sent you a message. Wanted me to tell you to stop lying around. He’s got no one to watch his back.”
Kid smiled. “You gotta do that for me.”
Kid’s eyes closed once more. The sheriff sat beside him until Kid’s breathing took on the steady rhythm of sleep.
“Any news?” Heyes asked as Lom approached the cell.
“So what’s happening?”
“Nothing confirmed yet.”
Heyes’ eyes narrowed. “You being deliberately vague, Lom?”
The sheriff removed his hat and scratched his head. He lowered his voice when he spoke. “Arranging to have two outlaws released is a sensitive issue. I don’t want rumours spreading.”
“Got the telegrapher in your pocket?”
“He knows his job.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I’m confident he won’t talk.”
Heyes rested his forehead on the bars. “I don’t want to go to prison, Lom. You never realise how much you value freedom until it’s taken away. I just want to be a cockroach.”
“Nothing.” He met the sheriff’s gaze. “If Kid’s not well prison will kill him. If you have to choose, get him out and let them take me.”
“I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”
“So am I, but if it does, get him out.”
Lom sat at a table on a far corner of the saloon and watched Clancy McNead walk away. He followed the man’s movements as he pushed through the bat wing doors out into the sunlight. Lom picked up the bottle of whiskey that stood on the table and poured himself a glass. He downed it in one swallow then poured another.
“Mind if I join you?”
The sheriff looked up to see Doctor Oliver standing before him, a glass of beer in his hand.
The doctor pulled out a chair and sat. “I’ve just been making my regular call to the girls upstairs.”
Lom smiled. “Does your wife know?”
“What?” Realisation hit the medic. “Oh, no! Not that! I mean…” He shook his head. “You know very well what I mean.”
“I do. I have a few soiled doves back in Porterville and you know what I mean by that.”
The doctor smiled and raised his glass. “To our understanding.” Lom raised his glass and drank. “I saw the bounty hunter leaving.”
“Have things been settled?”
“I hope so.”
“I will keep what you told me in confidence. I have no desire to ruin anyone’s chance of freedom.”
“I appreciate that, Doc.”
“I’m sure it was a difficult decision.”
Several days later
Hannibal Heyes did not believe in miracles. Well, maybe with the exception of a recent one. Nor did he put much faith in the law. However, Lom Trevors appeared to have pulled off a miracle when Sheriff Berry announced that both Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes were free to go, as ordered by the Governor of the State of Wyoming. Just what had passed between the Sheriff of Porterville and the bounty hunter Lom would not say. Exactly how the Governor had been persuaded to have them freed, Lom would not say. All Heyes knew was on this occasion they were walking free, subject to the staying-out-of-trouble part.
“You need a hand?” Heyes asked as Kid stood by the open door of the stagecoach looking at the climb inside as if it were a mountain.
“I’m not an invalid,” Kid grouched although he was anything but fully recovered and his left arm was in a sling.
“Just thought you might need…”
“Heyes!” Kid snapped.
“All right.” His friend stood back and watched as Kid pulled himself up one-handed into the stagecoach and failed to conceal a grimace.
“There, no problem,” the blond man stated as he sank back on the bench seat. The sheen of sweat on his pale face and his rapid breathing made him out a liar but Heyes knew better than to argue this one. They were taking the stage to Porterville where Kid would heal up at Lom’s house.
Heyes turned to look for the sheriff and spotted him talking to Wilbur Berry. The two lawmen shook hands and then Lom headed their way.
“Everything all right?” Heyes asked, still finding it hard to believe that they were letting them go. Lom steadfastly refused to tell him what deal he’d struck with the Governor. “You can trust me, you know.”
“If there’s an agreement you made with the Governor you can tell me.”
“There’s nothing you need to know, Heyes.”
The two men met each other’s gaze. Heyes smiled. They were free and that was all that mattered…For now. He might have to get Lom drunk one night to get the full story.
“Everything’s fine, that’s all you need to know,” Lom assured him. “How’s our patient?”
“Come on, Joshua, let’s get out of here.” Lom looked into the stage. “Thaddeus, I don’t…” He stopped talking when he spotted Kid slumped against the far window. He waited and then Kid’s chest rose and fell reassuring him that he was still alive. Lom pulled himself into the coach and sat opposite the blond outlaw. Heyes climbed up and sat beside his friend being careful not to wake him.
“It’ll be good to get back to Porterville,” the sheriff stated then tapped on the roof as a signal to the stage driver.