Saved by the Cavalry

Saved by the Cavalry

By Maz McCoy

The posse had been chasing them for two days. Ever since Jake Hampton had carried out the bank robbery they didn’t know they were taking part in. One minute they had been chatting to Jake outside the bank…and the next they were being chased by a posse.

They’d met Jake the previous evening at the poker table. He was a pretty good player and a pleasant young man, a year or two older than the twenty-year-old Hannibal Heyes. He had a young family living with his folks on a farm somewhere south of Cleaverville. He’d heard about a cattle drive heading north from a big spread not far from town. They were paying good money too. Kid and Heyes were going to ride with him to the ranch and see if they could sign onto the drive. They met Jake for breakfast the next morning and he told them he just needed to collect something from his sister at the bank before he left town. He failed to tell them it was the contents of the safe. Jake asked Kid to hold his horse while he went inside. The young blond man had obliged. Eighteen-year-old Kid Curry shifted impatiently, eager to get going. Heyes watched the people of the town going about their business. He was just about to ask Kid something when all Hell broke loose.

The bank doors flew open and Jake came running out with a large money bag in each hand. He threw them across his saddle, grabbed the reins from Kid and yelled “Ride boys! Ride!”

Kid and Heyes watched open mouthed, as Jake spurred his horse and rode out of town, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. When the bank staff had run outside and seen Kid hand the reins to Jake, they immediately assumed the two young men were part of the gang.

“They’ve robbed the bank! Get his partners!” someone yelled and the sheriff, puffing his way up the street, drew his gun and fired at them. Kid and Heyes jumped onto their horses and took off after Jake.

The sheriff had quickly gathered together a posse and they were soon hot on the heels of the two young men. Kid and Heyes had no idea where Jake had disappeared to; so they rode for their lives. Suddenly considered outlaws, the two young men had found it hard to shake the posse. Bullets flew in all directions and came much too close for comfort.

Now, as their horses were close to dropping, Heyes led the way into a forest at the base of mountains; mountains that marked the territory border. If they could make it to the mountain pass they’d be out of the sheriff’s jurisdiction. A bullet hit a tree trunk on his right and Heyes put his head down. The posse was not giving up yet. They had been on their trail for two days. Heyes hoped when they reached the border, the men would turn back. More bullets pinged off the trees and rocks, as the posse made a final, brave attempt to capture their quarry before it was too late. Finally, the partners reached the top of the pass. As Heyes had predicted, the posse didn’t follow them beyond the border. When he was convinced it was safe, Heyes pulled his horse to a halt, exhausted. He turned in the saddle to look back at his young cousin. Kid was slumped over the neck of his horse, breathing heavily.

“I think we lost ‘em,” Heyes stated confidently. “D’you think we lost ‘em?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Kid mumbled, not sitting up. “Hope so.” They were both as exhausted as their horses.

“Yeah, I reckon we lost ‘em,” Heyes said positively and he looked at his friend. Kid was still slumped forward. “Kid?” Heyes asked, suddenly concerned.

Kid sat up, with a groan. He held his left shoulder, blood running through his fingers, his blue shirt stained red beneath them.

Heyes’ eyes fixed on the blood.

“Kid?” He managed to stumble out his partner’s name. “What? When did..?”

“A while back,” Kid told him and then collapsed once more over the neck of his horse. Heyes was swiftly off his horse.

“C’mon, let’s get you down,” he said, pulling his friend from the saddle. Kid fell off his horse, collapsing in a heap on top of Heyes. Heyes propped Kid up against a tree, the blond man’s face was pale, his breathing rapid. Sweat ran down his face, sticking blond hair to his forehead. Kid cried out in pain, as Heyes pulled open Kid’s shirt and took a look at the wound. There was a bloody bullet hole in his shoulder. “I need you to sit forward,” he told his friend.

Kid groaned as he leaned forward and Heyes looked at the back of his shirt.

“Is there an exit wound?” Kid asked, weakly. He didn’t feel good.

“No,” Heyes told him. They both knew that meant the bullet was still in there. If it wasn’t removed…well, they’d watched a man named Bill Kelsey die of a similar injury not too long ago. Neither man reminded the other of that.

“I could try and dig it out,” Heyes suggested and Kid laughed, and then cried out in pain.

“Don’t make me laugh Heyes, please,” he told his friend, as he held his shoulder.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the dark-haired young man asked defensively.

“You might be good at…” Kid made a turning gesture with his hand, “…opening locks and stuff, but I don’t think you’d be much of a surgeon.”

“And why not? I have very skilled hands,” Heyes informed him. His friend laughed once more and it hurt again.

“Heyes, I am not gonna let you prove a point by practicing on me.” Heyes considered this as Kid rested his head back against the tree trunk and closed his eyes. “Oh, I feel sick,” he announced. He looked nauseous too. Kid Curry had never been shot before and the excruciating pain of a bullet piercing his skin had stunned him. He’d wanted to call out to Heyes, but he knew they had to keep moving. So he had said nothing, just kept Heyes in his sight, clung on tight to his horse and rode for his life. Now, as he lay back against the tree, blood running down his chest and soaking into his shirt, Kid began to feel light-headed. He knew this was serious. He kept his eyes closed, ready to let sleep claim him.

“Kid?” Heyes said and Kid’s eyes shot open.

“Huh?” he said and Heyes placed his bandana over the wound at the front; Kid flinched.

“What do I do?” Heyes asked, trying to suppress the fear in his voice. He’d never treated a bullet wound before. He’d seen others do it. He’d seen a man once break open a bullet, pour the powder over the wound and set light to it, to cauterise the wound. He didn’t think he could do that to a hole in Kid’s body. Didn’t think he could watch Kid suffer like that. Were you supposed to do that if the bullet was still in there? He didn’t know. Besides he didn’t have anything to open a bullet with. “Kid what do I do?”

“Use a shirt…to bandage it,” Kid said, between breaths.

“Yeah…yeah of course. I should have thought of that,” Heyes said, chastising himself for not thinking quickly enough. His partner needed him to do the thinking; to come up with the answers, but there was so much blood over Kid’s chest. He just wanted to do the right thing…to save his friend. Heyes looked in his saddle bags and pulled out an old shirt, ripping off the sleeves, as he made his way back to Kid’s side. He used his knife to tear the rest of the shirt into strips. Kid’s eyes were closed.

“Kid?” Two blue eyes looked up at him.

“I’m thirsty,” the young man said. “Got any water?” Heyes fetched his canteen and Kid took a long drink. Heyes opened Kid’s shirt. Blood ran down his skin and Heyes had to fight to focus on the task at hand and not on the amount of blood Kid had already lost and was still losing.

“The posse?” Kid asked.

“They didn’t follow us over the border,” Heyes stated. Kid held the folded piece of shirt in place while Heyes secured it using the strips he’d cut. When the wound was bandaged, Heyes sat back on his heels.

“You were right,” Kid said, weakly.

“About what?” Heyes asked.

“A bullet,” Kid told him. “It hurts.”

Heyes gave his friend a reassuring smile.

“Yeah, it does, but it eases. It’ll get better you’ll see.” The memory of his one and only bullet wound came back to him. He’d lost a lot of blood too, but there had been a doctor on hand, a clean bed, fresh bandages and the doctor’s wife had helped to nurse him. Heyes looked down at his partner. He was scared. There was no doctor to help him. No clean bandages, only torn strips of a worn shirt. He was terrified of doing the wrong thing. Terrified his ignorance might cost Kid his life.

“Kid?” Heyes said and the young blond man opened his eyes again.

“Huh?”

“What do we do now?” Heyes asked.

“I need a doctor.”

“I know, but if we go back to town they’ll arrest us for robbing the bank.”

“Fort West,” Kid said. “It’s not too far.”

“Kid, we can’t go there. It’s full of soldiers.”

“Kinda expect that from a Fort,” Kid said with a weak smile. “They don’t know…who we are.”

“The sheriff could have sent word on ahead.” Kid didn’t seem to hear.

“Should have a…doctor.”

“Alright,” Heyes agreed. “We hafta get you back on your horse. Think you can stand?”

“No,” Kid stated, honestly.

“Well unless I can persuade the horse to lie down…” Heyes smiled.

“Guess I’m gonna hafta get up then,” Kid said, making no attempt to move.

“C’mon, I’ll help you,” Heyes said, taking hold of his friend’s hand. Kid cried out in pain, as Heyes hauled him to his feet. Kid’s knees gave way and Heyes grabbed hold of him, supporting him as he walked to his horse. Kid looked up at the saddle as if it was a mountain to climb.

“I don’t think…think I can do this,” Kid said, as sweat ran down his face.

“Sure you can,” Heyes encouraged. Somehow, with a lot of effort on his part and a lot of pain on Kid’s, Heyes got his friend back into the saddle. Once Kid was on his horse, he slumped forward, resting on the horse’s neck.

“Damn it hurts,” he mumbled, between rapid breaths.

Heyes looked down at his own bloodstained hands. His shirt was also dotted with his partner’s blood. He looked up just in time to see Kid, slip sideways in the saddle.

“Whoa!” Heyes pushed his friend back. “Hey c’mon partner, stay up there!”

“Not sure…I can,” Kid told him. Heyes knew that he would have to ride double to keep Kid on his horse. He eased Kid’s foot from the stirrup, placed his own in it and pulled himself up behind his friend. Catching hold of the reins of his own horse he tied them around the saddle horn and urged Kid’s horse on. Kid leaned back against Heyes, unable to do more to help.

***

Fort West started life as a bustling trading post for the Indians and fur traders, became a staging post for the pony express and then the local headquarters for the U.S Cavalry. Now it housed a small troop of cavalry and the area around the Fort was gradually growing into a sizeable town. It was early evening when Heyes rode towards the gates. Kid leaned back against his partner. For a while Heyes had kept up a stream of constant chatter hoping to keep Kid awake. Kid replied occasionally with a grunt or groan and maybe an ‘uh huh’ when he found the strength. He hadn’t spoken for sometime and Heyes knew his friend had lost consciousness. He didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. He just knew he had to get his friend to a doctor.

Heyes rode through the large wooden doors of the Fort. A guard on sentry duty came towards them.

“Where’s the doctor?” Heyes demanded, wasting no time on pleasantries.

Seeing the injured man, his shirt covered in blood, the young soldier pointed to the doctor’s quarters and Heyes rode towards them. The soldier followed, knocking on the door of the doctor’s home as Heyes pulled his horse to a halt. A beam of light shone out from the doorway as the doctor and his wife stepped into view.

“Oh my!” the woman exclaimed, as she saw Heyes slip from the saddle and turn to ease Kid down.

“Can someone help me here? He’s been shot,” Heyes said. The doctor moved quickly to his side. Together they carried Kid inside and to a back room. Laying Kid on the bed, Heyes stood back as the doctor began his examination of the young man.

“Oh, he’s just a boy,” Florence Silver said, as she came to her husband’s side.

“He’s eighteen ma’am,” Heyes told her and she noted the pride in his voice. Were these young men brothers, she wondered?

“Son, when you get to my age, that’s just a boy,” she replied with a smile.

“Can you help him?” Heyes asked, desperately, watching them from the corner of the room. The doctor, a grey-haired man, in his fifties looked up at the young man, taking in his worried face and blood covered shirt.

“What’s your name son?” Warren Silver asked.

“Hannibal Heyes. People just call me Heyes.”

“And your friend?”

“Kid. Jed,” he corrected. “Jed Curry.” Heyes’ eyes fell on his friend’s pale face.

“What happened?” the doctor asked, turning back to the young blond man. He pulled aside the makeshift bandage, examining the gapping wound with an experienced eye.

“We were ambushed; they shot at us; hit Jed,” Heyes said, trying to keep his story simple.

“Did you see who they were?” The doctor eased the bloody shirt from Kid’s shoulder and the blond man cried out. Heyes took a step towards the bed.

“No. Just bushwhackers I guess,” Heyes said, absently, as he watched. His friend’s eyes opened and Kid grimaced, trying to get away from the doctor’s touch.

“It’s alright Jed, I’m a doctor. I need to examine your wound.” Kid’s eyes were only partially open and he tried to focus on the man. He didn’t seem to understand and Heyes moved to the other side of the bed.

“Kid, it’s okay.” Heyes placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. Kid looked at Heyes and noticeably relaxed.

“His pulse is very weak,” the doctor announced. “I can see he’s lost a lot of blood.”

“I tried to stop it,” Heyes told him. “Used a shirt, but I didn’t know what else…”

“You did well,” the other man assured him, noting the fear in the young man’s voice.

Not totally convinced, Heyes stood back, watching the doctor work.

“I’m going to have to get the bullet out,” Warren said and Kid cried out beneath the doctor’s touch again. “Easy son,” Warren soothed. He turned to his wife and listed the things he would need. Used to acting as her husband’s assistant, Florence went quickly to work. Water was soon heating on the stove in the kitchen, bandages were gathered and medical instruments prepared. Worried, Heyes looked down at his friend.

“I’ll need your help to hold him down,” the doctor informed Heyes. “This won’t be pleasant for him,” he warned. Heyes knew the doctor wanted to add ‘or for you’. The dark-haired man nodded, appreciating the other man’s candour. He was terrified. Was this how Kid had felt when he had been shot? When the doctor had removed the bullet from Heyes’ side? Unconsciously the dark-haired young man touched his side. The scar was still there and no doubt Kid would bear one too.

Two blue eyes looked up at him.

“Hey Kid,” Heyes said, smiling as he leaned closer to his friend.

“Where are we?” Kid asked, trying to focus on the room.

“Fort West. The doctor’s house.”

Kid smiled.

“Thanks,” he said, weakly.

“The Doc’s gonna take the bullet out,” Heyes informed him. Kid knew what his friend was telling him.

“That’s gonna hurt huh?”

“Yeah.” Heyes held out his hand. “You can squeeze my hand as hard as you like,” he offered.

“You might regret saying that,” Kid said with a weak smile. “I’ve got quite a grip.”

The doctor returned to his side.

“Jed?” Kid looked up at him. “I’m Warren Silver, I’m a doctor. I’m going to remove the bullet from your shoulder. I’m going to give you some laudanum. It should help to ease the pain but I can’t give you much. I’ll be as quick and as careful as I can, but I won’t lie to you, this is going to hurt.”

“Okay Doc,” Kid said, struggling to focus on the medical man. A woman entered the room carrying a bowl of steaming water. She had a towel over her arm.

“This is my wife, Florence,” the doctor said, turning to introduce his wife to the injured young man.

“Ma’am,” Kid said, politely and received a kind smile in return.

“We’ll take good care of you Jed,” she told him. “And I’ll build you up with a few good meals afterwards I promise. You are far too skinny, young man!” she scolded, good-naturedly and turned to Heyes. “When did you last eat?” Florence asked.

“A whole meal?” Heyes looked confused.

“Yes.”

“A couple of days ago I guess.”

“I’ll fix you something when we’re done here,” she said.

“I’m not hungry,” Heyes informed her.

“He’ll need you to stay strong for him.” Florence waited for this to sink in and for the young man’s response.

“Thank you,” he said.

When the doctor’s instruments were laid out, bandages assembled and Kid’s bloody clothes removed they took their places at his side. Florence had cleaned away the dried blood on Kid’s skin. The bloody wound looked painfully raw. The doctor had given Kid some laudanum, but he did not want to risk using too much on someone clearly so weak. Kid was already groggy when Heyes leaned forward and placed a hand on his right shoulder, pinning him down. Kid opened his eyes and took the hand Heyes offered. They didn’t need any words.

“Open your mouth,” the doctor instructed and Kid did as he was asked. Silver placed a rolled bandana between Kid’s teeth, with instructions to bite down on it should he need to. Kid was scared, knowing what was about to happen to him but he tried not to show it. He didn’t want to worry Heyes. Heyes was just as scared and trying to be just as brave. Neither man fooled the other. Heyes could see the fear in his friend’s eyes; fear that was reflected in his own. He gave his friend a reassuring smile. Beads of sweat covered Kid’s forehead and his eyelids drooped as the laudanum did its work.

“Ready?” Doctor Silver asked. Kid felt his pulse quickening, as the doctor leaned forward, a fearsome metal instrument in his hand.

Kid nodded and then the pain began. Despite the drug coursing through his veins, attempting to dull the pain, Kid felt every touch of the knives plunging into his flesh. He bit down on the bandana and tried to get away but the doctor, Heyes and the doctor’s wife were doing a good job of holding the young man down. Kid’s eyes, wide open with pain and fear, met Heyes’ and his friend had to look away. He knew this was for Kid’s own good but it didn’t feel like it. Kid cried out and writhed in agony, as the doctor probed deeper into the bloody torn flesh, searching amongst cartilage, bone and muscle for the metal bullet.

“Can’t you give him some more laudanum?” Heyes asked, distraught.

“I don’t want to risk anymore; not the way he’s breathing,” the doctor told him, continuing his work.

“But he’s…” Heyes pleaded.

“Not strong enough!” the doctor finished.

Suddenly Kid stopped fighting. Heyes shot a frantic glance at the doctor who stopped what he was doing. Bloody fingers felt the blond-man’s pulse. The look on the doctor’s face told Heyes something was wrong.

“What is it?” he demanded. The doctor did not reply. He placed two fingers at Kid’s neck, concentrating. “Doc?” Heyes begged. Still no reply. The concern on the doctor’s face was mirrored only by the fear on Heyes’. “DOC?”

“It’s alright, his pulse is very weak but he’s still with us.” That wasn’t as reassuring a response as Heyes would have liked but it meant Kid was still alive and that was enough, for now. The doctor returned to his task.

The bullet made a clunk when the doctor dropped it into the bowl Florence held. The bloody hole was sewn up, and a bandage applied. Kid looked peaceful, when Florence pulled the sheet up to his chest and stood back.

“He looks younger than eighteen,” she observed.

“Yes ma’am,” Heyes agreed. “A lot of folks say that.”

“Are you brothers?”

“As good as,” Heyes said, looking at Kid. Florence looked up, her expression enquiring. “We’re cousins. Been best friends all our lives.”

Florence nodded her understanding and busied herself, clearing things away.

Heyes stood, leaning with his back against the wall, it was either that or collapse on the floor in a heap. His knees didn’t feel strong enough to hold him up. How had Kid stood this when it had happened to him? Kid had known the man who had shot his friend was close to hand. How had he been so controlled?

When Heyes looked up he found himself alone with his partner. Kid’s breathing was too shallow to be heard.

“Don’t you dare die,” Heyes said and found he had a sudden need to get some fresh air.

***

Hannibal Heyes stood outside the doctor’s quarters. He felt sick. Nothing moved in the courtyard of the Fort. Above him a couple of soldiers patrolled the perimeter ramparts, illuminated only by the moonlight. Heyes looked up at the clear night sky. He was so scared. He was going to lose Kid, he knew it. He had never been this close before, not since they had been in the home and Kid had fallen sick. He was supposed to look after Kid. He’d promised him that from the day their parents had died. He would take care of him. He was all Kid had left and Kid was all he had. All his family, all his childhood; Kid was the only one who knew about that; the only one who shared his memories, but he had failed him. He should have known Kid was hurt, he should have ridden at the back, he should have been looking out for him, he should have… He hit a nearby post with his hand, then winced in pain.

Heyes heard the door open behind him. Doctor Silver stepped out into the evening air, drying his hands on a towel, and came to stand beside the dark-haired young man. Heyes wanted to thank him but he didn’t trust his voice not to break. The doctor gave him time to compose himself. Heyes wiped a hand across his eyes before turning to face the man.

“Thank you,” Heyes finally stumbled out.

“It’s all right,” the doctor said, as he placed a comforting hand on Heyes’ shoulder. “He’s been through the worst and survived; now he has to fight back.”

“Be honest with me Doc. What are his chances?” Heyes’ eyes met the doctor’s brown ones.

“In truth it’s too early to tell. Shock can set in or an infection, but he’s young and strong, at least I assume he was before the bullet?” Heyes nodded. “Then he should be able to fight it. You just have to remind him he has something to live for.”

Heyes let the man’s words sink in.

“Does he have any family you want to contact?”

“No. I’m his only relative, he’s my cousin. Our families were killed in the war.”

“I see, I’m sorry.” Warren Silver turned back to the house. “Take some time; it’s going to be a long night. Florence and I will take turns to sit with him.” He went back inside.

Heyes looked up just as the clouds moved off the moon. In his mind’s eye he could still see the blood on Kid’s shirt, on his body, on the bullet lying in the basin. He could see Kid’s still body lying beneath the crisp white sheets. He needed to pace, he did his best thinking if he could pace. With nowhere particular to go, he set off across the courtyard. He passed wagons, some empty, and some piled high with supplies ready for a trader’s early morning departure. Sounds of laughter drifted from the soldier’s mess room and a long beam of light shone from a window. Other than that there was no one about. Heyes tried to clear the panic he felt from his mind. Kid needed him to be strong. He had to make sure they did what was best for his friend. He’d done everything he could, hadn’t he? He’d got him to a doctor. The Doc had said the worst was over and that was a good thing. Wasn’t it? He would sit with…

“Hold it right there!” a voice suddenly called and Heyes froze. “Put your hands up.” Heyes did as he was told.

It couldn’t be the posse could it? They’d lost them; left them at the ridge. He was sure they had lost them. How had they found him? Surely they hadn’t followed them to the fort?

“Turn around!” Slowly, as instructed Heyes turned and found himself face to face with a young guard. “What are you doing here?” the man demanded.

“I don’t…” Heyes didn’t know where he was, but presumably this was off limits. He looked around. It looked like a storage area. Boxes were piled high around them, some covered with tarpaulin.

“What are you doing here?” the guard demanded once more.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was off limits,” Heyes told him truthfully. He attempted an innocent smile.

“Yeah, well it is. Army personnel only are allowed in this area. Who are you anyway?”

Heyes didn’t answer. He swallowed. Why this? Why now? He just wanted to get back to his friend.

“I asked you a question!” the guard said, forcefully and poked Heyes in the ribs with his rifle. “Answer me!” the guard said again and Heyes’ temper flared. All the emotions of the past few hours welled up in the dark-haired young man.

“Don’t push me!” he snapped back.

“Don’t go causing trouble!” he was told. “Now get moving.” The man shoved him again and Heyes lunged forward, catching the man square on the jaw, with a punch. As the soldier fell backwards his rifle discharged, the shot echoing around the Fort. Instantly cries went up, lights went on in windows, there was the sound of running feet, the click of rifles, the cry of orders and Heyes found himself standing over the young guard, his fists balled and surrounded by the cavalry.

“Get your hands up,” a burly man, with a long moustache, ordered.

With a heavy sigh, Heyes did as he was instructed and someone grabbed him, forcing his arms behind him.

“Get off me!” Heyes cried, struggling with the men holding him. A punch landed in his ribs and he doubled over in pain. He felt handcuffs click around his wrists. Still dazed by the sudden turn of events, he found himself looking into the barrel of a rifle.

“Who is he?” someone asked.

“I don’t know, I found him wandering around by the dynamite,” the guard told his superior officer, as he brushed down his tunic. Heyes looked up, finally taking a proper look at the crates and boxes. The word ‘explosives’ leapt out at him and there was another he should have spotted, stencilled on a box, ‘dynamite’. No wonder the man had been jittery.

“What’s going on here?” an authoritative voice demanded. A tall young man in an immaculate uniform stepped into view. From the way the men pulled themselves upright and stood to attention, Heyes knew this was the officer in charge.

The guard who had challenged Heyes stepped forward.

“Captain Duffy, I found this man wandering around by the explosives. When I challenged him he became violent. He punched me.” Heyes wanted to dispute that but thought it wisest to keep quiet for the moment.

“Get him to the stockade!” the officer commanded. He was a handsome man in his early thirties, taller than Heyes and with jet black hair. “Sergeant Watson, I’ll want a full report. Let this hot head cool off and we’ll deal with him in the morning.”

“Yes sir!” the sergeant replied and turned his attention to the prisoner.

“Wait! Captain Duffy, stop please!” Doctor Silver called, running across the yard to the men. As the doctor reached them, lanterns were brought closer so they could see the face of the angry young man. There were gasps when the light revealed the blood on the young man’s shirt.

“What in the name of..?” the Captain wanted to know.

“It’s not his blood,” the doctor stated.

“Then whose is it?” the Captain demanded.

“His friend’s, he’s been shot. He brought him to me. Captain, I don’t believe this man is a threat to you or your men. I told him to get some fresh air. He’s young and in truth still in shock from what he’s seen today. Let him go please.” The Captain considered this and noticeably relaxed. He studied the young man, recognising the anguished look in his eyes. He looked at the blood on the man’s shirt.

“Remove the handcuffs,” he ordered. Heyes felt the cuffs loosen and he was freed. The Captain dismissed his men and turned to face the doctor. “I think I’ll need to hear his story,” he said.

“I can speak for myself,” Heyes told him and he was surprised when the Captain smiled.

“I’m glad to hear it. Now, why don’t we go and see how your friend is and you can explain how you ended up wandering around the explosives?” Heyes nodded and the Captain accompanied the doctor and Heyes back to the medic’s house.

***

Captain Alexander Duffy watched the young man walking beside the doctor. He had recognised the expression on the young man’s face; a look of loss, of fear, and of shock. It was a look he’d seen in his young soldiers on too many occasions. Whatever this man had witnessed, it had clearly shaken him.

He nodded a greeting to the doctor’s wife as he entered her home. The three men moved through to the back bedroom where Kid lay unconscious. Warren Silver went to Kid’s side.

Captain Duffy looked down at the young blond man lying still beneath the sheets. The bandage at his shoulder was bloodstained.

“Why he’s just a boy,” the Captain exclaimed, in amazement.

“He’s eighteen, so we’re told,” the doctor replied, as he gave Heyes a comforting smile.

The blond boy didn’t look too well to the Captain’s experienced eyes. He’s unlikely to reach nineteen, he thought.

Heyes stood by the door, not saying a word.

“How is he?” the soldier asked, as the doctor took Kid’s pulse.

“Very weak,” the doctor stated, much to Heyes’ concern. “He has a fight on his hands. I’m sure you can appreciate that,” he said, as he turned to face the Captain. The military man nodded; he’d seen enough wounded men to know. The men left the room, allowing their patient to continue his battle undisturbed. Heyes wanted to stay but the doctor placed a hand on his shoulder indicating that he was expected to join them. Heyes shot a look at Kid, lying deathly pale, before he left.

They entered the parlour. As Heyes followed Florence noticed the blood splatters on his shirt.

“Oh my goodness, young man, you need a clean shirt,” she exclaimed.

“I need a word with him Mrs. Silver,” Captain Duffy informed her.

“It won’t take a moment for him to change, Captain,” Florence assured him, ignoring the man’s protestations. She put her hands on Heyes’ shoulders and turned him away from the others, steering him towards the kitchen.

“What do you know about them?” Duffy asked when he and the doctor were alone in the parlour.

“Only what Heyes has told me. They were bushwhacked. Someone shot at them and Jed was hit.”

“Do you believe him?” he asked, as the Doctor handed him a drink.

The doctor considered this, as he swirled his own drink around in his glass.

“I believe he’s genuinely concerned about his friend and he has been polite to myself and Florence. I know no more than that.”

Duffy nodded and took a sip of the fine brandy.

“Will the boy make it?”

“I don’t know. He’s lost a lot of blood. He’s very weak, as you saw.” The doctor looked into his brandy, thoughtfully. Despite all his training and experience, there were still times when there was little more he could do for a patient except wait. “I just don’t know.”

The door opened and Heyes and Florence returned. Heyes looked cleaner, his hair was combed and he wore a dark blue shirt. He accepted the brandy the doctor offered him, with thanks. Heyes wanted to drink it down in one long, gratifying swallow but instead he took a polite sip and kept a wary eye on the Captain.

“Tell me about yourself,” the cavalry officer said, after Warren had made the formal introductions. Heyes didn’t appreciate the scrutiny he was receiving.

“What do you want to know?” he asked, flatly.

“Where were you bushwhacked? Perhaps I should send some of my men out to scout around? See if the men who shot at you are still out there?” Heyes detected the scepticism in the man’s voice.

“Well it was near the mountains,” Heyes told him vaguely. “As we were coming down from the ridge.”

“And you saw no one?” Duffy asked, watching the young man intently.

“Not a soul,” Heyes replied. Normally he would have met the other man’s gaze; challenged him to call him a liar, but he had to play the innocent victim this time. Heyes did his best to look the part and decided against spinning an elaborate tale.

“Have there been any other reports of attacks?” the doctor asked.

“No,” the captain told him, not taking his eyes from Heyes.

“I guess we were just unlucky then,” Heyes stated, finally meeting the other man’s eyes. He put down his glass. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit with Jed.”

“Of course,” Warren said, turning to the captain. “Do you have any more questions?”

“Not at the moment,” Duffy conceded, finishing his own drink. Once more his eyes fixed on the dark-haired young man. “They’ll be no charges brought against you, this time, but behave yourself here,” Duffy ordered.

Heyes declined to comment.

“Good evening Mrs. Silver. Doctor.” The Captain headed for the door but then paused, turning his attention back to Heyes. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you,” he added.

The Doctor put a hand on Heyes’ shoulder.

“He’ll behave,” he assured the Captain.

“I hope so,” Duffy said and nodding good evening to Florence, he left.

***

Heyes sat in the dim glow of a lamp, listening to Kid breathe. Each breath told him that his friend was still alive even though he was unconscious. Kid looked so young. Captain Duffy had been right about that. Despite all they had been through Kid still looked like an innocent boy at times. In fact there was little in his outward appearance to tell you what he had suffered in his short life and in truth his true feelings about their own hardships only rarely surfaced. Someone once said Kid had a slow fuse and that was true. It took a lot to get Kid angry but stand well back when he was. Heyes smiled as he remembered getting on the wrong side of his friend a few times. He’d also had to step in, more than once, when Kid’s anger had been directed at someone else. If Kid hadn’t been so quick on the draw there may have been occasions when…

A sudden groan brought Heyes back to the present. Kid grimaced, as he fought the pain. His eyes screwed up tight and he writhed beneath the covers. Kid was feverish. His eyes momentarily opened.

“Heyes?”

“I’m here,” his friend said, moving closer but Kid’s eyes were closed again. “Kid?” There was no response. Kid groaned and gasped for breath but he did not wake.

There was nothing Heyes could do to help. Returning to the chair he sat down. Fingers pressed to his lips, he watched Kid and waited.

***

True to her word, Florence had fixed Heyes something to eat, but he’d been a poor dinner guest. Sitting with the couple, he had done little more than pick at his food, anxious to return to his friend.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he apologised when he did not finish his meal. “I don’t seem to have much of an appetite.” Florence gave him an understanding smile as she cleared away the plates.

Now, as the Doctor and his wife prepared to retire, Heyes lowered himself into the armchair beside the bed and prepared for what he knew would be a disturbed night. He’d declined Florence’s offer to find him a bed somewhere, preferring to stay with his partner.

He was quickly back on his feet when the doctor entered the room.

Sweat covered Kid’s forehead and he mumbled incomprehensively. Heyes stood back watching, anxiously, as the Doctor, dressed now in his nightshirt and robe, felt the blond man’s pulse. He placed Kid’s arm gently back beneath the covers but did not comment.

“He’s weaker isn’t he?” Heyes stated, anxiously. “Doc?”

“Yes,” Doctor Silver admitted.

Heyes’ head dropped and the doctor placed a comforting hand on his arm.

“If you know any prayers, now would be a good time to say them,” he suggested. “And to help them along, let’s see if we can bring his temperature down.”

The doctor turned to a basin of water and a cloth, on the table beside the bed. He showed Heyes what to do and left him, sitting beside his young friend, wiping Kid’s forehead with the cool material.

“You’d better be fighting this,” Heyes told Kid, firmly. “Don’t think I’m doin’ all of this for nothin’, while you just lie there.”

Kid showed no sign that he knew his friend was near.

***
Heyes woke in the early hours to hear Kid cry out. The blond man tossed and turned, as fever and a bad dream over took him. Heyes watched, fascinated, as Kid’s trigger finger began to twitch, as if he was firing his gun, in the dream. As Kid grew more distressed, Heyes sat on the edge of the bed and placed the cool cloth on his friend’s forehead. After a few moments Kid was calmer, his breathing slower. Two blue eyes slowly opened, struggling to focus.

“Han?” Kid asked.

“Yes Jed. It’s me,” Heyes assured him.

“Did I shoot him?”

“Who?” Heyes asked.

“He was gonna shoot ya. I had to stop him. He was…gonna…”

“Who was?” Heyes pressed, but Kid’s eyes were closed and Heyes would never know the answer.

***

Florence opened the door quietly and peered into the room. Kid lay motionless. He was calmer than when she had seen him last night. Heyes was asleep in the chair, his head resting on one hand, the blanket she had provided lay at his feet. Her maternal instincts swelled as she looked from one young man to the next, no more than boys in her eyes. Boys who needed someone to look after them. Florence crept towards the bed, not wanting to wake Heyes. Kid looked cooler and she risked placing a hand on the blond man’s forehead. Yes, his temperature was definitely down and his breathing was stronger.

Hearing a movement behind her, Florence turned to see Heyes blinking as he tried to wake himself up.

“Is he all right?” he asked, anxiously.

“He’s cooler. You’ve done a good job.”

Heyes pulled himself up in the chair and pushed back his hair from his head with both hands. He stretched his arms above his head trying to free a crick in his neck.

“I’m making breakfast. I’ll call you when it’s ready,” Florence told him. She saw his hesitation. “Don’t worry; you only have to eat what you want,” she assured him with a smile.

“Thank you ma’am,” he replied, as he got to his feet. “I don’t know how we can repay you.”

Florence placed a hand on his arm.

“I’m sure Warren has some chores you can help him with, but for now let’s concentrate on getting Jed well.”

“Yes ma’am,” Heyes agreed as she left the room. He was grateful to have found such nice folks to help them.

***

Kid’s eyes opened. He tried to focus on something but that took effort and he didn’t have the energy. His eyes closed. A movement close by made him open them again and he turned to peer at a fuzzy outline.

“Jed?” a woman’s voice asked. Her tone was gentle. He tried to speak but that required effort too, so he managed a groan instead. “Take it slow,” she advised. “You’re hurt but safe.”

“My…” his voice was almost too quiet to hear. Florence leaned in closer. Jed tried again. “My friend?” he asked, his eyes were still more closed than open.

Florence smiled.

“He’s fine,” she assured him, brushing a damp curl from his forehead. “He’s having some breakfast but he’ll be back soon. He was here with you all night.”

This seemed sufficient for the young man.

Florence changed the bandage on his shoulder. Kid’s eyes opened occasionally, watching her, but apart from a flinch or a groan, he said nothing. When she finished, Kid drifted off to sleep once more.

***

It was quiet. There were no sounds to help him establish where he was. The pain in his shoulder reminded him of the bullet wound. Kid opened his eyes. He was in a bedroom, but where? Kid remembered hearing a woman’s voice or had that been part of a dream? He turned his head to look around and saw Heyes, sitting in a chair, not far away. His friend’s eyes were closed; his head dropped slowly forward and then suddenly jerked up again, as he caught himself drifting off to sleep. Heyes’ head dropped once more and then jerked back up again.

“Heyes,” Kid said and his friend’s head shot up, his eyes suddenly wide open. Heyes turned quickly to face Kid.

“Hey,” Kid said, weakly.

“Hey, yourself. Welcome back,” Heyes replied with a smile. He blinked, trying to wake himself up.

“Back? I haven’t been anywhere,” Kid told him, confused.

“Yes, you have,” Heyes said, cryptically, as he stood up.

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Heyes told him, stepping closer. “How you feeling?”

“Not so good,” Kid admitted. He grimaced as a pain ran through his shoulder. His eyes were only half open. Memories flooded back. “We safe here? I mean the posse? The sheriff?” he asked, anxiously.

“There’s been no sign of anyone. I’m sure we lost them,” Heyes assured him. “We’re safe here.”

“S’good,” Kid stated, weakly. “Sorry I…took a bullet.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Heyes reminded him. “I guess one of them just got a lucky shot.”

“Maybe they went…after Jake instead?”

“I hope so. I’d like to meet up with him again myself,” Heyes told him, an edge of anger in his voice.

“Yeah…me too.” Kid was fading, his eyes growing heavier by the second. “You sure we’re safe?”

“I’m sure.”

“You okay?” Kid asked, but he was not awake long enough to hear the answer. Heyes stepped back and suddenly felt someone else in the room. Turning he saw Florence standing in the doorway. He’d been so focussed on Kid; he had not even heard her open the door. He chastised himself for being so careless.

“How is he?” she asked.

“Sleeping again,” Heyes told her, wondering how much she had heard.

“I think we need to talk,” she said and Heyes had his answer.

He followed her out of the room, wondering just what she had overheard and what he could say to explain it. Florence’s demeanour gave nothing away as they entered the kitchen. She stopped beside the sink and then turned to face him.

“Jed mentioned a posse,” Florence stated, getting straight to the point.

“He’s not thinking straight,” Heyes explained, quickly. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“But you do.” Heyes didn’t reply. He gave the doctor’s wife his most innocent look, but she was an intelligent woman, who knew what she had heard. “You told him there was no sign of anyone. That you’d lost them. Who were you talking about?”

“Ma’am, he…” but Florence interrupted him.

“Young man, you are a guest in my house. We have looked after your friend and, in truth, saved his life. There is a troop of Cavalry soldiers, just one shout away. Are you going to tell me the truth or should I call Captain Duffy back and we’ll see what he can find out?” She fixed her eyes unwaveringly on Heyes. The dark-haired young man knew when he was cornered and that he would do nothing to harm this woman in order to escape. She looked at him, clearly expecting an explanation.

“There was a posse,” he said, reluctantly.

“Go on.”

“They thought we’d robbed a bank,” he began, then added quickly, “but we didn’t!”

“I think you’d better explain,” Florence said, as she pulled out a chair and sat at the table. Heyes sighed. Kid said he had a silver tongue. He sure didn’t believe that now.

“We were standing with the horses, outside the bank, when the man, who did rob it, came out. The next thing we knew people were shouting and the sheriff started firing at us. I guess he thought we were the look-out men.”

“So you ran?”

“Just as fast as we could ma’am and for as long as we could,” Heyes assured her.

“Why didn’t you try to explain?”

“They weren’t in any mood to listen to us. There were bullets flying all around us. If we’d let them get close enough to talk, they’d have shot us for sure.” He had a sudden thought. “They did shoot Jed.”

“Where was this?” Florence asked. She’d have made a good poker player, as her expression gave no emotions away.

“Ma’am, I’d rather not tell you. I’ll get our horses and…” Florence held up her hand to stop him.

“You are not taking Jed anywhere. He can’t be moved!”

“Well I’m not letting them take him to jail!” Heyes snapped back. “We didn’t do anything except run for our lives!”

“Well if you are innocent, it can be sorted out.” She noted his expression. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“We’re not exactly innocent.”

“So you were involved?”

“No!”

“Then what?”

“Let’s just say we’ve had to bend the law a few times,” Heyes stated and waited for her response. This wasn’t going as well as he had hoped.

“I see. Are you on the run?” Florence asked, the disappointment she felt was obvious in her voice.

“Only from some places,” Heyes admitted.

“Is there a price on your head?”

“Not that we know of.”

Florence shook her head in despair and stood up.

“Oh, what am I going to do with you two?” she asked, her tone lighter.

“Let us go?” he suggested, hopefully.

“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” a voice said behind Heyes and the dark-haired man spun quickly around to see Captain Duffy standing in the doorway.

“Oh not again,” Heyes muttered. He sure was losing his touch.

“I was looking for your husband,” the Captain explained to Florence. “But I seem to have stumbled on something else instead.”

Heyes tried to control his desire to run. Kid was too sick to travel. He had to think of something to say and fast.

“I’ll go look for the Doc for you,” he suggested, trying to sound innocent.

“Oh no you don’t,” the Captain told him, placing a hand across the doorway, blocking his escape route. “I heard enough to know you’re staying put.”

Heyes felt a heavy weight in his chest once more.

***

“This is totally unacceptable!” Warren Silver complained as Captain Duffy’s hand rested on the handle to Kid’s room.

“Warren, I know that, but we both want to know if that young man is telling the truth,” he said, casting a thumb in the direction of the parlour where Heyes was sitting with Florence and two armed guards. “In his present condition, I don’t think this boy is going to lie too well, do you?”

“Alex if he…” Warren left the threat unsaid.

“I’m not a monster Warren. I just want the truth sooner, rather than later. Don’t you? Don’t you want to know just who’s sitting in there with Florence or what trouble might descend on us at any moment?” The doctor nodded reluctantly and Duffy opened the door. Kid lay quietly, apparently sleeping. Once again the Cavalry man was struck by how young the blond boy looked. He pulled a chair up close to the bed. The fresh bandage on Kid’s shoulder was still white. The bleeding had finally stopped. Hearing someone in the room, Kid opened his eyes. He focussed on shiny brass buttons and braid.

“Jed?” Duffy said, watching the young man fighting sleep.

“Yeah?” Kid replied, focussing on the uniform. He didn’t know this man. Why was a soldier there? Was he still dreaming?

“My name is Alexander Duffy, I’m a Captain in the cavalry here at Fort West.”

“The cavalry?”

“Yes.”

“Horses?” Kid asked, as he tried to take this in.

“Yes, horses,” Duffy confirmed. “I need to ask you some questions. Are you up to talking?”

“Sure,” Kid said, although he was anything but convincing.

“Hannibal has been telling us what happened to you. About the posse chasing you. How you were shot.”

Two blue eyes focused on the Captain but Kid said nothing.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

Kid watched the man, clearly suspicious.

“I’m hoping you can confirm what your friend told us and you can help keep him out of trouble.” Duffy saw just a flicker of a response at this threat to his friend.

“Heyes in trouble?”

“He could be.” The Captain saw this register with the blond man.

“What kinda trouble?”

“He’s under arrest at the moment.”

Kid’s eyes fixed on the Captain.

“Why did you run?” he persisted.

“They were shootin’ at us,” Kid replied.

“Who?”

“The posse. The sheriff.”

“A bank robbery is a serious thing.”

“We didn’t…rob the bank. It wasn’t us.” Kid took a deep breath and Warren Silver watched him, assessing how his patient was coping.

“What town was this?” Duffy asked.

“Masonwood.”

“Why were you there?”

“Lookin’ for work. Thought we’d…found some too.” Kid closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Jed?” Warren said, concerned.

“What work?” the Captain asked.

“A cattle drive. Jake said…”

“Jake? Who’s Jake?” Duffy asked quickly.

“Met him…the night before…told us…” Kid took another deep breath and groaned as his stitches stretched.

“Alex I don’t think…” but the doctor received a withering look for the military man.

“Jake told you what?” Duffy prompted.

“Told us about the drive,” Kid explained. “We were gonna…leave with him…next morning…’Cept he robbed the bank instead.” Kid took another deep breath. “Sheriff saw us…thought…thought we were…in on it…”

“So you ran?”

“Yes sir.” The doctor didn’t like the way Kid was breathing. “We were just…standing there…We never even went…went inside…Heyes didn’t do…Let him go…We didn’t do…Please, we didn’t…” Kid’s breathing grew erratic and Warren Silver stepped forward and took hold of the young man’s wrist, ignoring the angry look from Duffy.

“His pulse is rapid. I think you should stop,” he advised.

“In a minute,” Duffy agreed and addressed Kid once more. “Jed, where did Jake go?”

“I don’t know.” He looked anxiously at the Captain. “Heyes ain’t…in real trouble…is he?”

“No. No he’s not,” Alex Duffy assured him.

“Can I go back…to sleep now?” Kid asked.

“Sure Jed. You’ve been a great help,” Duffy said, standing up. He looked at the Doctor.

“Well?” Warren asked, as he watched Kid drift off to sleep.

“It seems Mr Heyes is telling the truth,” the Captain admitted.

***

Heyes stood up when the Captain and the Doctor entered the room. The two guards standing at his side stood to attention in the presence of their superior officer. Duffy dismissed them and turned to face Heyes.

“Your friend confirmed your story,” he announced.

“Is he all right?” Heyes asked, clearly angrier at their questioning of Kid than relieved that he might be out of trouble.

“He’s fine,” Warren Silver assured him. “He’s sleeping now.” This seemed to satisfy the dark-haired young man. The Captain headed for the door.

“Stay out of trouble Mr. Heyes. When I can, I’ll contact the sheriff in Masonwood.” Heyes looked concerned. “I’ll let him know I don’t believe you had anything to do with the bank robbery; either of you.”

Heyes looked surprised.

“Thank you,” he said, meeting the Captain’s gaze.

“I’d suggest you don’t run off next time,” the military man said. The he nodded to the others and left.

“Can I go and see Kid now?” Heyes asked.

“Of course,” the doctor told him.

***

Kid faded in and out of consciousness all that day. After another disturbed night, he woke early the following morning, his head clearer. His eyes scanned the room and he saw Heyes sitting in the armchair, reading.

“Heyes.” At the sound of his name, the dark-haired man looked up from the book. It was one Florence had found for him. One he had not read before. He smiled when he saw Kid was awake.

“Heyes,” Kid said again.

“Yeah?” Heyes asked.

“I’ve been thinkin’,” Kid told him.

“Never a good idea,” Heyes retorted. He got a look but Kid declined to comment.

“D’you want my gun?” Kid asked.

“What?”

“If I don’t make it; d’you want my gun?”

“No!” Heyes protested. “Don’t talk like that.”

“You don’t want my gun?”

“No, I don’t want your gun.”

“Why?”

“What?” Heyes asked.

“Why don’t you want my gun? S’a good gun. S’better than yours; cleaner too.”

“You are not gonna die and I don’t want your gun!” Heyes told his friend firmly.

“Sheesh, how ungrateful can you get? It might be my…” Kid yawned. “My dying wish that you take my gun.” Heyes felt awkward. He stood up and approached the bed.

“Is it?” he asked, his injured friend.

“What?”

“Is it your dying wish?” Heyes asked, seriously.

“I don’t know. Am I dying?”

“No!”

“So why d’you want me…to make a…dying wish?”

“I don’t!!”

“Sheesh! No need to get snappy.”

“Will you go back to sleep!”

“I just thought…”

”Well don’t! Don’t go breaking the habit of a lifetime, now,” Heyes returned to the chair and picked up the book and sat down. “Dying wish!” he scoffed, saying no more. After a few moments of silence, he looked up. Kid was asleep as instructed. Heyes smiled. His friend was on the mend.

***

Over the next two days, Kid grew stronger. He was able to sit up in bed for longer periods and eventually made it as far as the chair. He was impatient to do more but realistic enough to know it would take time to fully heal. Heyes’ mood brightened as his friend got better. The doctor’s wife found herself rewarded more and more with his smile.

Heyes helped her, fetching water, carrying baskets, collecting provisions or helping to fold sheets. He made himself equally useful to the doctor.

Heyes was fascinated by the man’s medical text books and Warren Silver was happy for him to read them. Heyes’ eyes opened wide as he turned a page to discover a diagram of a dissected torso. Warren found him late one evening sounding out the names of illnesses he’d never heard of.

“Nep-her-ray-tee-tus,” Heyes tried.

“Nephratitus,” Warren corrected. “Nef-er-ay-tie-tus.”

“Sounds painful,” Heyes remarked.

“I imagine it is,” the doctor agreed, enjoying the young man’s enthusiasm for knowledge. Still clutching the book, Heyes headed back to Kid’s side.

***

“You need to get some sun on your face young man,” Florence told Kid, as she picked up the empty soup bowl from the cabinet beside the bed. Once his appetite had returned, Kid had eagerly devoured the food she had brought him. He sat up in bed, his left arm in a sling. “A breath of fresh air will do you the world of good,” Florence decided.

“Ma’am I’d just as soon…” but Kid’s pleas to stay in bed were ignored.

“You can sit out on the porch. I’ll put some cushions on the chair, to support your back.” Florence turned at the door. “I’ll ask Hannibal to come and help you,” she said and left the room.

“I’d just as soon get some more sleep,” Kid muttered, forlornly when she had gone.

As promised, Florence returned with Heyes a few moments later. The dark-haired man wore a smile that told Kid he knew his partner was fighting a losing battle with the doctor’s wife.

“Hannibal, if you can support Jed on the right side I’ll bring a blanket and we can get him settled in the chair,” Florence said. Kid rolled his eyes, wishing the woman wouldn’t fuss so much.

“Yes ma’am,” Heyes said, clearly enjoying his friend’s discomfort.

With a flourish Florence pulled back the covers and Kid was glad he was wearing his long johns. Florence shook out Kid’s pants, which she had washed for him.

“Put these on young man,” she instructed. “We don’t want you sitting out there indecent.”

With Heyes’ help, Kid got both feet into the pants legs. Leaning on his partner for support, Kid got to his feet and then much to his surprise, Florence took hold of the jeans at the waist and pulled them swiftly up. Heyes smiled at Kid’s embarrassment and received a glare in return.

“Ma’am, I can do that,” Kid protested when Florence reached for the buttons. The doctor’s wife smiled and stood back.

“Sorry,” she said. “Most of Warren’s recent patients have been children. I’ll leave you to finish dressing. Hannibal there’s a shirt on the chair. I’ll get things ready outside.” With a smile Florence left the room. Kid let out a sigh.

“Heyes I know she means well but…” he shook his head.

“C’mon, get your pants buttoned before she decides you’re taking too long and comes back to finish the job,” Heyes said with a smile. Kid did as suggested, although it was difficult using only one hand. Heyes waited and then held out his friend’s shirt. “I guess you could put your right arm in and drape the left side over your shoulder,” he suggested.

“D’you think that’ll be decent?” Kid asked, eyeing the door anxiously.

“I’m sure Florence will agree to it.” He helped Kid into the shirt, then found his boots under the bed.

Heyes supported his friend and together, slowly, they walked out into the sunshine. Florence buzzed about them. As promised she had placed a chair in front of the house, on the porch. Two comfortable looking cushions beckoned. Kid lowered himself into the chair, surprised by how exhausted just the short walk, had left him. He looked up at Florence standing in the doorway, smiling approvingly. The doctor appeared behind her.

“Ah good, you’re out in the fresh air,” he said when he saw Kid. “Enjoy it while you can, apparently we’re due rain this evening.” He turned to Heyes.

“I have to collect some supplies from town. I could use some help.”

“Yes sir,” Heyes said. He looked down at Kid. “Will you be all right?”

“He’ll be fine,” Florence answered for Kid. “I’ll take good care of him.”

Kid’s eyes met his friend’s.

“Don’t be too long,” he said, conveying more than those four words to his partner. Heyes gave him a pleasant smile and followed the doctor towards the gates of the Fort.

Kid turned to see Florence smiling down at him.

“Should I bring a blanket?” she asked. “I don’t want you getting a chill.”

“I’m fine ma’am, really,” Kid assured her.

“Then perhaps a book or a newspaper?”

“Ma’am, I’m just fine,” Kid said again.

“I’ll see what I can find,” she told him and disappeared back into the house. Kid sighed when the door closed.

“I really am fine,” he muttered to himself. He looked around the Fort. There were two men in uniform loading up a wagon over by the store. A couple more patrolled the ramparts. Several men on horseback were about to ride out on patrol. Kid closed his eyes, listening to the sounds around him. It wasn’t long before he was asleep.

***

Jake Hampton rode into the town of Fort West. He was tired, dusty and saddle sore. He needed a drink, a bath and a fresh horse in that order.

“There’s a trader up at the Fort right now. He’ll sell you a good horse, for sure,” the owner of the livery stable had told Jake. He would head out that way tomorrow.

He groaned as he climbed from the saddle in front of the saloon. A smile returned to his face as he removed his saddle bags from his horse and felt the weight in them. All that money sure felt good. He had given not a moment’s thought to the two young men who had drawn the posse away from him. He mounted the steps to the saloon in search of a long, cold drink.

***

Heyes and the doctor reached the general store. The doctor had explained that he could easily have the supplies delivered but he liked to take any opportunity he could to get into town and meet his patients.

“It also gets me out from under Florence’s feet,” he confessed, as they entered the general store. “Good morning Hector,” he said, greeting Hector Docherty, the store owner. The man looked up from behind stack of dress material.

“Hello Doc,” the man said cheerfully. His eyes fell on the dark-haired young man with Dr Silver. Heyes smiled pleasantly.

“This is Hannibal Heyes. He’s staying with us while his friend heals up.”

“That the young fella who was shot?” Hector asked.

“Don’t worry,” the Doctor told Heyes. “News travels fast around here. There’s not much excitement since the Dudley Gang attacked the town.”

“You were attacked?” Heyes asked, concerned. It helped to explain the patrolling guards at the fort and the suspicious nature of Duffy’s men.

“You mean you haven’t heard the story?” Hector asked him, pleased to have someone new to tell the tale to. The Doctor decided to continue his shopping while Heyes had the benefit of Hector’s embellished version of ‘The attack on Fort West’.

***

Kid woke to the sound of someone hammering. Yawning, he cursed the invention of all tools in general but the hammer in particular. He looked around the courtyard, hoping to spot the offending workman. The wagon in front of the store was gone. Two different men were on patrol but he couldn’t see who was hammering. His eyes fell on a man riding into the Fort. The sunlight reflected off of something pinned to his chest. A badge. He was a lawman, a sheriff. No, not just a sheriff; the sheriff. It was the sheriff from Masonwood. A sudden rush of adrenaline spurred Kid into action and, instinctively, he reached for his gun. His hand slapped against his side. He wasn’t armed. Kid knew he had to get out of sight. He looked at the door. It was closed and seemed so far away. He had to get inside before the sheriff saw him. The lawman pulled his horse to a halt and dismounted. He had his back to Kid.

Kid pulled himself quickly to his feet and instantly regretted it, as he found one leg had gone numb from where he had been sitting still for so long. At the same time the world swam about him and a wave of nausea passed over him. He put out his left hand hoping to find the wall for support but he was too far away and the sling restricted his movement. Kid’s knees gave way and he stumbled. He tried to grab the chair but missed and went crashing to the ground, landing on his injured arm, knocking the chair over in the process. Kid cried out in pain.

The sheriff’s head snapped round at the sound of a cry behind him. There was a blond boy on the ground a few feet away, struggling to get to his feet. The sheriff saw that the boy’s arm was in a sling and he was having trouble getting back into a chair. Taking pity on the lad, he moved towards him, about to offer a helping hand and then he froze. It couldn’t be? A smile broke out on the sheriff’s face. Now he knew why Jake had ridden towards Fort West. After he’d returned to Masonwood with the posse, the sheriff had news of a sighting of Jake Hampton and headed after him alone. Sheriff Don Henderson drew his gun and continued towards the blond boy.

Kid saw the sheriff approaching and tried desperately to get to his feet. He couldn’t use his left arm, there was a pain screaming through his shoulder, from where he had hit it when he fell, and his feet didn’t seem to want to cooperate either. He tried pushing himself up using the wall for support, but got tangled up in the shirt that was hanging from his arm.

Sheriff Henderson strode, purposefully, towards the stricken young man.

“Stay right where you are boy!” he commanded.

Kid couldn’t find the strength he needed to get away. His breathing was rapid, as he began to shuffle along the floor towards the door, pushing himself backwards with his feet.

“Hold it there son!” the sheriff commanded again. Kid’s eyes moved to the barrel of the Colt that was pointed in his face. He froze and two blue eyes met the sheriff’s. Kid could feel something warm on his shoulder and knew the stitches in his wound had broken.

“Don’t…don’t shoot,” he said, holding up his right hand in surrender. “Don’t shoot!”

The sheriff looked at the young man lying helpless on the ground and the red stain growing larger at his left shoulder.

I knew I’d winged him, he thought, sadly.

“Don’t move and I won’t shoot,” Henderson told him, advancing on Kid. His shadow fell on the boy.

At that moment the door opened and Florence appeared in the doorway. She gasped when she saw the sheriff standing there with a gun on Jed. She put a hand to her mouth, as her heart went out to the boy lying helpless on the ground.

“Stop please!” Florence pleaded.

“Stay back ma’am,” the sheriff commanded.

“He’s done nothing wrong!”

“This boy’s a bank robber ma’am,” he told her, his eyes still on Kid.

“He’s not!” she protested. “Sheriff please…”

“Lower the gun!” a voice suddenly boomed and the sheriff shot a quick glance to his right. A tall man in a uniform strode purposefully towards him. “Sheriff, lower your weapon!” Captain Duffy ordered, as he approached.

“This boy’s a wanted bank robber,” the sheriff explained, over his shoulder, returning his gaze to Kid.

“And in this Fort he’s under my jurisdiction,” Duffy informed him. “So lower your weapon. Now!” Duffy did not draw his gun, he didn’t need to. There was enough authority in his voice to let the sheriff know he meant business. There were also several soldiers watching and waiting for an order from their commanding officer. The sheriff knew when he was outnumbered.

There was a brief moment of tension as the sheriff contemplated what to do. At that very moment, Heyes and Doctor Silver returned to the Fort. Heyes carried a parcel for the Doctor and chatted away happily. He glanced casually towards the doctor’s quarters wondering if Kid was still sitting outside. Heyes froze when he saw Kid lying on the ground and a sheriff standing over him with a gun pointed at his friend. He saw the blood on Kid’s shirt and for one terrifying moment, he thought Kid had been shot again.

Heyes took a step forward but Warren Silver placed a restraining hand on his arm.

“Wait,” he cautioned. “Let Alex deal with this.”

“But…” Heyes fought the desire to go to his friend, but recognised the need for caution. He stood and watched, not having as much faith in the Captain as the doctor clearly had. His hand dropped to the gun strapped at his side.

The sheriff glanced at the military man and then slowly lowered his Colt, holstering it. As Duffy approached the lawman, Heyes and the doctor moved quickly towards the fallen blond man.

“Kid?” Heyes said with concern, crouching beside his friend. The doctor began to examine his shoulder, pulling aside the bandage.

“I’m okay,” Kid assured them, although it was obvious he wasn’t. He flinched at the doctor’s touch.

“The stitches are broken,” the doctor announced and exchanged a look with Heyes.

Captain Duffy stepped between Kid and the sheriff.

“Take him inside Doctor. I need to have a talk with the sheriff,” the officer said.

“Now wait a minute!” the sheriff complained. “That boy’s wanted for bank robbery in Masonwood.” His eyes fell on Heyes. “And he was with him!” He pointed to the dark-haired young man.

“And you’re out of your jurisdiction,” Duffy reminded him. “Take him inside,” he repeated, his eyes daring the sheriff to intervene. Henderson was sensible enough not to. Heyes and the Doctor got Kid to his feet and helped him back into the Doctor’s quarters and to the bedroom. Kid sat down heavily on the bed, his shoulders slumped as he fought to stay awake, let alone upright.

“I’m sorry,” Kid said, weakly.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Heyes told him, one eye on the door in case the sheriff had followed them. A thought came to him. “Did you?” he asked.

“No!” Kid protested. “I was trying to stay out of sight; didn’t do much of a job of it, did I?”

“Not really,” Heyes admitted.

They eased Kid out of the shirt. Warren was removing the bandage just as Florence entered the room, carrying a bowl of water and some towels.

Her eyes fell on the bloodstain on Kid’s bandage.

“Oh Jed,” she said with concern, as she stepped closer. Kid raised his head.

“Are we in trouble?” he asked.

“Alex is talking to the sheriff now,” she informed him. “He wants to see you,” she told Heyes.

The young partners exchanged a worried look.

***

Captain Duffy was a man who trusted his instincts. He also prided himself in his judge of character. He had a good feeling about Hannibal Heyes and the injured Jed Curry, much to their amazement. He believed what Kid and Heyes had told him and he did not believe they were involved in the bank robbery. Alexander Duffy was also an eloquent and persuasive man. Heyes stood in the parlour, listening in admiration, as the Captain told Sheriff Henderson what he knew. Heyes shifted uncomfortably and fought his desire to add to the cavalryman’s story. He felt the sweat on his forehead as he watched the lawman. Did the sheriff believe him? His eyes fell to the gun at the sheriff’s side and his hand dropped to his own, not that he would shoot anyone.

Somehow, Captain Duffy managed to convince the sheriff of the boys’ innocence. The lawman wasn’t pleased but he was satisfied that Heyes and Kid were not the men he needed. Jake Hampton was his prime concern. Heyes smiled nervously as the sheriff left and turned to thank the Captain. Alex Duffy did not look pleased.

“I could have sworn I told you to stay out of trouble,” he said. Heyes didn’t quite know how to reply.

***

Having been offered a comfortable place, at the Fort, to rest for the night, Sheriff Henderson rode out the next morning still hoping to catch up with Jake Hampton. Kid and Heyes breathed a sigh of relief at no longer having to watch over their shoulders.

Kid was considerably stronger by the following morning. At last he could stand and walk unaided, if somewhat unsteadily. Florence suggested the young men sat outside while she did some baking.

“What the heck are you doing?” Heyes asked when he entered the room to find Kid, his arm still in a sling, buckling on his gun belt.

“Puttin’ my gun on,” Kid told him.

“What the heck for?”

“I always put it on!” Kid replied.

“Your arm’s still in a sling!” Heyes reminded him.

“Not the one I shoot with.”

“Oh you plannin’ on shooting something?” Heyes asked incredulously.

“No.”

“Then what d’you need your gun for?”

“Just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“I don’t know Heyes, that’s why I’m gonna wear it!” Kid told him, pointedly.

“So you’re expecting trouble?” Heyes asked, sitting down in the armchair and studying his friend.

“Well it always seems to show up,” Kid reminded him.

“Not this time it won’t.”

“You don’t know that!” Kid snapped.

“Kid all you’re gonna do is sit outside!”

“And look what happened last time I did!” Kid’s voice was getting louder.

“That’s over. Captain Duffy’s sorted it out with the sheriff.” Heyes stood up. “He’s gone!”

“Hmph,” was Kid’s response.

“You don’t believe that?”

“I just know I feel better with my gun on Heyes,” Kid stated, meeting his friend’s gaze. He headed for the door. “You comin’?”

Heyes was dumbfounded. He shrugged and then indicated, with a wave of his hand, for Kid to lead the way.

***

Heyes sat beside Kid in front of the doctor’s quarters. He read the next sentence in his book. He read it again. Then he realised he hadn’t actually read the words, just ran his eyes over them. Cursing under his breath, he tried again…

“Sheesh will you please relax!” he exclaimed as he turned to face Kid.

Kid looked up, surprised by his friend’s outburst.

“What’s wrong?”

“You! I can’t read while you’re doin’ that!”

“Doing what? I’m just sittin’ here,” Kid protested, from where he…sat.

“No you’re not. You’re watching everyone.”

“Well what d’you expect me to do? Sit here with my eyes shut?”

“No, just don’t…watch in that way.”

“What way?”

“You know.”

“No I don’t know,” Kid told him.

“You’re waiting for something to happen and it’s driving me crazy!”

“Well I can’t help the way I watch things.”

“Just do it…differently,” Heyes suggested.

“How the heck can I watch folks differently?”

“I don’t know but work on it!” Heyes snapped.

“Heyes you’re weird sometimes you know that?”

Heyes shot his friend another look and then returned his attention to his book. Kid remained quiet, not moving, trying not to ‘watch’ in a conspicuous way and not saying a word. After a while Heyes thought his friend might have fallen asleep. He began to focus on the story once more.

Suddenly, without a word, Kid stood up and walked off. Heyes looked up from his book. Now what? He didn’t like the expression on Kid’s face. He knew that expression and it always meant trouble.

“What the heck is he up to now?” Heyes muttered, as he watched his friend striding purposefully, if somewhat unsteadily, towards the gates of the Fort. He surveyed the faces of the people milling about, horses, wagons, men loading supplies, woman talking and…Jake! Heyes was swiftly on his feet. He dropped the book on the chair and headed off after his friend. “Kid!” he hissed, not wanting to alert Jake, but his friend either didn’t hear, or he chose not to, and kept walking.

Kid made his way towards the young man talking to the horse trader. They were in deep negotiations and didn’t see the blond man with his arm in a sling, approaching.

“Jake!” Kid called and the man turned around. He was surprised to see Kid, a little guilty too, when he saw the man’s arm was in a sling. Jed didn’t look too strong either. Jake looked worried when he saw the angry expression on the blond man’s face. The horse trader stepped to one side, recognising an imminent confrontation when he saw one.

“Hey Jed,” Jake said, desperately trying to sound pleased to see him. “How you doing?”

“How do you think?” Kid asked, stopping a short distance away. “You let ‘em think we robbed the bank. We had a posse after us.”

“Well, I’m real sorry about that,” Jake said with little sincerity.

“You don’t sound it,” Kid told him, his eyes meeting the other man’s. Jake’s expression changed and he moved to stand facing Kid. His hand dropped to his side.

“Kid,” Heyes cautioned, as he approached.

“So you’re here too,” Jake said, taking his eyes off Kid only momentarily.

“Well, we ran in the same direction,” Heyes told him, casually. He watched Kid, saw him assuming that stance he was now all too familiar with. Sheesh, the man had his arm in a sling, what did he think he was going to do?

“We could have been killed,” Kid stated. His eyes fixed on Jake’s.

“I’m sorry boys, but that’s the way it goes.”

“I don’t like being taken for a fool,” Kid told him, his right hand dropping to his side.

“Kid,” Heyes said again, but once more his friend ignored him.

“Whatcha plannnin’ on doin’? Drawing on me? Here? In front of all these people?” Jake asked, clearly not believing Kid would.

“Maybe,” Kid replied.

“With your arm in a sling? What happened to you anyway? The posse getcha?”

“Yeah they did,” Kid told him flatly. “And I’m right handed so if you want to…”

“Jake we don’t blame you,” Heyes said, stepping forward, intent on stopping this before Kid did something they would all regret. “We just didn’t like being shot at.”

“Well that’s understandable. I hope you don’t want a share of the money because I didn’t get as much as I thought. That bank manager tricked me. Put in some weights instead of money. I mean you’d have thought…”

“We don’t want a share,” Heyes assured him, his tone still friendly.

“What about him?” Jake said.

“He’s just a bit ticked off at taking a bullet,” Heyes said, stepping between the two men.

“Heyes,” Kid said. It was a warning to get out of the way, to leave it for him to deal with. Heyes knew it too, but now it was his turn to ignore his friend.

“I must admit I’m pretty ticked off myself, come to think of it,” Heyes stated. “I mean we were shot at, almost killed, almost arrested too.” He was standing close to Jake now. “Why if it hadn’t been for the doctor here at the Fort, my friend might have died.” The friendly smile he had been wearing suddenly disappeared. Heyes fist connected with Jake’s jaw and he went down hard. Heyes rubbed his knuckles as he stood over Jake. The young man held his jaw as blood ran from his mouth.

“I fink you broke a toof,” Jake said.

“You should be grateful I didn’t let him shoot ya!” Heyes snapped back. He turned at the sound of running footsteps and saw the doctor and Captain Duffy heading their way. Heyes sighed at the thought of having to explain. He stepped away from Jake, meeting Kid’s eyes.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Kid told him. “I wasn’t gonna…”

“Yes, you were,” Heyes said, knowledgably. Kid didn’t deny it a second time.

“What’s going on?” the Captain demanded. The doctor gave Heyes a disappointed look hoping his faith in these young men had not been misplaced. He bent down to examine Jake.

“This is the man who…” Kid began but Heyes interrupted him.

“Made a mistake,” Heyes said. “He thought we were someone he knew…”

“So you hit him?” Duffy asked, clearly not convinced.

“He insulted my friend here,” Heyes added.

Jake looked at him, confused as to why Heyes was covering for him.

“It was just a misunderstanding,” Kid said, playing along with his friend.

“Hmmm. Is that so?” the Captain asked, thoughtfully.

“Yes sir,” Heyes assured him. “That’s right ain’t it?” he said, looking directly at Jake. “You made a mistake.”

“Yeah, I sure did,” Jake replied, as the doctor helped him to his feet.

***

“You know you should have let me shoot him,” Kid grumbled as they walked away.

“No, I shouldn’t.”

“Why d’you cover for him?”

“I remember the story Jake told us the night before he robbed the bank; about his wife and family. He was more desperate than we were for money Kid. Maybe we’d have robbed the bank if we’d needed it that bad?”

Kid considered this.

“Yeah,” he agreed. Once, neither man would have contemplated such an act, but they had experienced more than their share of hardship and both knew that desperate times often led people to act in ways they may never have imagined they would. “Yeah, Heyes, maybe we would. I sure hope it don’t come to that though.”

Heyes did not reply.

***

Once he was moving about, the speed of Kid’s recovery amazed Florence. He smiled politely and told her it was all down to her care and excellent cooking. She shushed him but there were extra biscuits at dinner that evening and Florence had also made her special blueberry pie.

Two days later, the boys were ready to ride out. They said their goodbyes to the Silvers, who were heading into town to visit some of Warren’s patients. Florence had packed them a bag of provisions and given Kid instructions to look after himself. Heyes was reminded to make sure his friend rested. The dark-haired young man listened intently answering “Yes ma’am,” wherever he felt it was necessary. Both men knew this couple had saved Kid’s life and they could never repay their kindness.

Heyes and Kid stood beside their horses, outside the Doctor’s quarters.

“You boys leaving?” Captain Duffy asked, as he headed towards them.

“Yes sir,” Heyes replied with a smile.

“Take care of yourselves,” Duffy said, as he shook each man’s hand in turn. Heyes climbed into the saddle. “Try to stay out of trouble,” the officer advised.

“We always do,” Heyes assured him. “It just has a habit of finding us.” Duffy smiled.

“Thank you once again for what you did for us Captain,” Kid said.

“My pleasure,” Duffy assured them, as he looked at the blond man. He still looked a little pale. “I hope you’ll understand if I say I don’t want to hear your names again.”

“We do,” Heyes assured him.

The Captain touched the brim of his hat and strode off.

“He was just telling us to stay out of trouble, right?” Kid asked.

“Yeah.” Heyes looked at his partner. “You sure you’re all right to ride?”

“I’ll be fine,” Kid assured him, convincing no one.

“You know you had me worried there for a while,” Heyes stated, seriously.

Kid looked up at his friend. Brown eyes met blue ones.

“I know,” Kid told him.

“Just don’t do it again, okay?” Heyes added with a smile.

“I’ll try not to,” Kid agreed, as he pulled himself into the saddle. He let out a groan as the scar tissue on his shoulder stretched. Heyes kept an eye on him but didn’t comment. Kid adjusted his hat against the glare of the sun. “Where to?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” Heyes said and turning their horses they rode out of Fort West.

THE END

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