No Love Lost
By Maz McCoy
The man’s fist collided with Kid Curry’s jaw sending the blond man staggering backwards. He landed on his butt in the dirt. Kid glared at Liam Cutler and quickly pulled himself to his feet. As he did so, Cutler put his head down and ran at Kid, catching him in the stomach. Both men went crashing to the ground in a heap. The other hands on the cattle drive gathered round, enjoying the excitement. They cheered as fists flew and each man struggled to get the upper hand. Kid got in a couple of punches before Cutler’s fist caught him on the chin once more and he fell backwards.
Hannibal Heyes heard the commotion as he rode into camp. He dismounted and tied his horse to the hitching line. He showed only a passing interest in the jeers and shouts emanating from near the chuck wagon. The men lived close together, worked long days in the saddle and arrived back at camp, tired and hungry. It wasn’t surprising if now and again tempers flared and fists flew. He removed his gloves as he strolled into camp. A group of men were crowded around the pugilists. His eyes scanned the faces, searching for his partner. When he couldn’t see Kid, a feeling of dread swept over him.
“No love lost between those two,” one of the hands said, as he passed Heyes on his way to the horses. “They’ve been glaring at each other all day. I knew something like this was gonna happen.”
Heyes put a hand on the man’s arm to stop him.
“Who is it?”
“Your friend and Cutler.”
Heyes shook his head and frowned, they couldn’t afford to lose this job. He headed towards the crowd and pushed his way through to the front, in time to see Kid take another blow to his jaw. Heyes flinched, almost feeling the punch himself. Blood ran from Kid’s nose and mouth. He had to stop this before the trail boss arrived. Heyes stepped in between the men.
“All right, that’s enough!” He turned his back on Kid, facing Cutler instead. The other man’s face was as battered as Kid’s. Cutler, a tall, broad shouldered man glared, belligerently, at Heyes. The dark-haired man held up his hands. “You win Cutler, all right?”
This seemed to satisfy the tall man. He took a step backwards and, seizing the opportunity, a friend pulled him away. Heyes turned to face Kid. The blond man looked dead on his feet but despite this, he glared, angrily, at his friend.
“What is it with you and cattle drives?” Heyes asked.
“Don’t!” Kid turned and walked away, or more like staggered.
Heyes took a deep breath and followed his friend. Kid sat down heavily on a fallen log, his back to Heyes. Heyes stepped over the log and sat down next to him. He said nothing for a few moments, letting his partner calm down. After a while he removed his bandana from around his neck and held it out to Kid.
“Your mouth’s bleeding.”
Kid took the bandana.
“Thanks.” He held it against the corner of his mouth.
“What was that all about?”
“Kinda hard to.”
Heyes almost smiled.
“He must have said something to get you so riled up.”
“I SAID LEAVE IT!” Kid snapped. Heyes was taken aback by the anger in the blue eyes focussed on him now. However, Hannibal Heyes wasn’t about to hold his tongue.
“He hit a nerve with something, huh?”
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“I heard you. So what did he say?”
“You just won’t let it go will ya?”
“No.” Heyes looked at his friend. Reaching out, he took the bandana from Kid and held it against a cut over his left eye. Kid flinched. “Hold still!” Heyes kept the pressure on.
Kid let out a heavy sigh.
“So are you gonna tell me?” Heyes asked.
“It was just something he said.”
“Heyes, please, leave it.”
“What did he say?”
Kid looked embarrassed.
“You know, you are the most stubborn…”
“Yeah, I know. So what was it?”
Kid looked at his friend.
“He insulted my Ma.”
“What?” Heyes asked, incredulously. “Sheesh Kid, how old are you?”
“I assume that’s one of those rhetorical questions you’re always on about?”
“I mean, I’ve lost count of how many times someone has insulted our parents or questioned our parentage, for that matter. What made you react this way now?”
Kid looked at the ground.
“D’you know what today is?”
“Tuesday, I think.”
“No, I mean the date.” Heyes thought about it. “It would have been her birthday.”
For once, Heyes didn’t know what to say. Kid met his eyes.
“I was thinking about her; been thinking about her a lot lately. What she’d have thought of me; how I’d try and explain to her…Maybe I’ve let her down. I don’t know. Then Cutler started on about nothing and…” He looked up at Heyes and shrugged. “I’m sorry if I’ve lost us the job.”
“I’ll talk to the boss, see if I can smooth things over.”
“I still miss her, you know? Don’t you think about your folks?”
“You don’t lose the love you feel, Kid.”
“Did you read that in a book?”
“No that’s a Hannibal Heyes original.”
Kid looked up at his friend. They both smiled.