By Maz McCoy
“KID! THIS WAY!”
Kid Curry shot a glance over his shoulder as Devil’s Hole Gang member Danny Stevens turned his horse into the dry river bed.
“DANNY, WE CAN’T GO THAT WAY!”
“YES WE CAN. I USED TO LIVE AROUND HERE. I KNOW A SHORT CUT! C’MON!”
Kid shot a look back at the closing dust cloud. The posse was hot on their tail and there was no time to argue so he followed Danny. They rode along the dried mud river bottom, the horses’ hooves flicking a tell-tale trail into the air as they galloped. Danny led the way into a smaller side channel before urging his horse into the trees. Kid was about to follow when a gunshot sounded and his horse went down. Kid flew over his horse’s head; hit the dirt, the left side of his face, scraping along the ground. He lay stunned as his horse struggled to get up. Kid sat up as other horses closed in around him and he heard the all too familiar sound of guns being cocked. He looked up, his grazed and bleeding face plastered with bits of sand and gravel. To his consternation Danny Stevens joined the men staring down at him.
“Good work Danny.” A large bear of a man astride one of the biggest horses Kid had seen, spat in the dirt as he studied the man on the ground.
“Tyrone, I’d like you to meet Kid Curry.” Danny smiled, ignoring the ice blue eyes fixed on him.
“Kid Curry, now ain’t that somethin’.” Tyrone leaned forward on his saddle horn his eyes fixed on Kid as he spat again. “Tie him up boys.”
Kid was hauled to his feet, relieved of his gun, arms pulled behind his back and his hands bound at the wrists. He continued to glare at Stevens.
Tyrone urged his horse closer.
“You’re worth ten thousand dollars to us dead or alive. Your choice.” He spat again and the glob landed on Kid’s shirt. When the blond man didn’t reply Tyrone smiled. “Tie him on the mule boys!”
“Everyone okay?” Hannibal Heyes asked as he rode into Devil’s Hole. Jumping from the saddle he smiled at Wheat, thumping him enthusiastically on the shoulder as he removed a bag of money from his horse. “What’s the matter Wheat? Didn’t we get enough for you?”
“What?” Still full of the thrill of the robbery and the chase that followed, Heyes wasn’t about to have his spirits dampened by one of Wheat Carlson’s complaints. “Look, we’ll divide it up and then you can tell me what I did wrong this time, okay?” Heyes looked around. “Where’s Kid?”
“That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell ya.”
“Kid and Danny ain’t back yet.”
“They’re probably just lying low.” Heyes patted Wheat’s arm. “You really should have more faith in Kid, you know.” He headed for the leader’s cabin.
“All Danny’s stuff’s gone.”
Heyes stopped and turned back to face Wheat.
“Seems he took all his stuff with him when we rode out. Now ain’t that a mite peculiar?” Wheat reached into his pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. “All except this.” He held it out and Heyes took it. It was the map Heyes had drawn when he’d first explained the raid to the boys two weeks ago. The map he had asked Danny to destroy in the stove fire.
“Why’d he keep this?”
“That’s what I was wonderin’.”
“Did you see which way he and Kid went?”
“Get the boys.”
Gagged and thrown over the back of a mule, Kid Curry passed an uncomfortable few hours before the animal finally stopped moving. Hands grabbed his shirt and dragged him from the mule’s back.
Kid found himself in front of a square adobe building with bars on the one tiny window. It didn’t need to have a sign on it saying ‘jail’ for him to know that’s what it was. Tyrone was speaking to an older man some way off. When the conversation was over they walked towards Kid. The man’s face was scarred; a dark moustache containing bits of his last meal covered his lip and a tin star was pinned to his chest. He grabbed Kid’s jaw turning his face towards him. Kid struggled to free himself but the man’s fingers simply grasped tighter.
“So this is Kid Curry?” He laughed. “You done all right for yourself this time, Tyrone. Hank, go get my razor. Hold him real still boys. He ain’t gonna be so pretty when I’ve finished with him.”
Heyes stood beside the body of Kid’s horse, scanning the ground. There were fresh horse tracks everywhere but fortunately no blood. He wouldn’t voice his fears but there were few riding with the Gang who couldn’t tell Heyes was worried.
“Heyes!” Lobo rode towards him. “The trail goes off that way.” He pointed into the trees. “Several horses and a mule.”
Heyes called to the rest of the gang.
“Let’s go boys!”
Kid Curry regained consciousness to find his legs and wrists bound. He was sitting on the floor in the jail with only one tiny barred window to provide light. The smell of human sweat and waste hung bitterly in the air. Kid’s head hurt, the side of his face was sore and he wanted to kill Danny Stevens. They’d taken Stevens in when he needed help and he’d repaid them by betraying him. Kid’s fists clenched and he pulled against the chains that bound him. When he got out of…Better make that ‘if’ he got out, he was gonna need a loaded gun for what he had in mind.
Cutter’s Station was too small to be a town, too large to be a single homestead. It was a way station on the road to nowhere. When there had been working mines in the hills, to the north, it had been a thriving supply depot but now there was a single store owned by a man who also served as barber, doctor, dentist and bar-keep and a jail run by self-appointed Sheriff Gil Thomas. He’d earned a reputation among bounty hunters by taking in the men they caught and holding them in his jail until the reward could be paid. No questions were asked and the condition of the prisoners was never a problem. Dead, alive, beaten to a pulp; it didn’t matter to Thomas. In return he’d deal with any paperwork and take a small percentage of the reward. Rumour had it he’d once had ten men locked up in the same tiny jail cell.
As Thomas slept off his midday meal in a chair in front of the jail, he was unaware that the Devil’s Hole Gang was watching his every breath.
“There, in the corral.” Lobo pointed. Several horses and a mule stood in what little shade they could find. “And that one, with the blaze. That’s Danny’s horse.”
“What do you want to do Heyes?” Wheat lay on the rock beside the leader. Heyes took a moment before answering.
“If they have them, they’ll be in that jail. There’s no cover getting to it so…” Heyes stopped when Danny Stevens walked from the store-cum-saloon. His dark gaze fell on the traitor making his way towards the corral.
“Well I guess there’s no question about which side he’s on, now.” Kyle spat a gloop of tobacco into a bush.
“Want me to shoot him?”
“No, Preacher, not yet.” The dark gaze didn’t waiver.
“Seems pointless waiting. A man turns one of us in, he deserves to die.”
“We’re not killers.”
“You’re not, Heyes. The good Lord knows differently about me.”
“Save your bullet.”
“Wheat, this is what we’ll do…”
Danny Stevens didn’t know Preacher had him in his sights as he threw his saddle on his horse and Tyrone, relieving himself behind the store, was completely oblivious of Wheat Carlson creeping up on him at such a vulnerable moment. When the first gunshot was fired the Devil’s Hole Gang had the upper hand. Pandemonium ensued. Men ran from the store. Thomas fell off his chair, hitting his head on the jail wall, stunning himself as the rest of the Devil’s Hole Gang rode into Cutter’s Station, shooting and hollering.
As Hannibal Heyes orchestrated the rout, Kyle Murtry shot off the lock and pulled open the jail door. The smell hit him first. The place couldn’t have been cleaned out in years and who knew how long prisoners had been kept in there. He entered cautiously, gun in hand, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light and then he saw a figure huddled against the far wall. The prisoner’s legs were shackled together at the ankles, his boots had been removed. His arms, handcuffed at the wrists, were chained to the wall. The man’s head hung down as if he was asleep or unconscious. His head had been shaved, badly. Blood from dried cuts and nicks showed between the tuffs of hair and stubble on his scalp.
“Hey fella.” The man did not respond. “Hey, can you hear me?” Slowly the man turned his head, moving into the beam of light that streamed through the window. Kyle saw a blackened graze down the left side of his face. Two ice blue eyes fixed on him. Shocked, Kyle turned towards the door. “HEYES!”
Kid squinted as he was helped by Heyes and Kyle out of the cell. They eased him onto the chair recently vacated by the sheriff. Heyes took the canteen, Lobo handed him, offering it to Kid who took a long drink.
“You look awful.” Heyes studied his friend’s damaged face and cut head.
“Thanks, Heyes, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Mostly my pride.”
Heyes removed his bandana and poured some water over it. He held out the wet cloth to his friend.
“For your face. That’s some graze you got there.”
Kid took it, grimacing as he cleaned the grit from his broken skin. He held the cool cloth in place, savouring its effect.
“Why’d they cut your hair?”
“I don’t know Heyes! Maybe it’s a new style back East!”
“Hey, don’t get proddy, we just rescued you!” Heyes met the glare his partner gave him.
“Then stop making stupid comments. Damn humiliating is what it is!” Kid reached up to feel the tufts and stubble, wincing as his bruised ribs made themselves known. “It’ll take forever to grow back.”
Before Heyes could say anything more to irritate his friend Wheat walked over to them.
“We got ‘em all trussed up like a turkey for…Sheesh Kid, what happened to your hair?” Two intense blue eyes dared the man to say another word. Wheat smiled, beckoned to Kyle and the two men walked quickly away.
Kid got to his feet.
“I need a horse.”
“We’ll take Danny’s. I figure it’s the least he owes you.” Heyes beckoned to Lobo and the man brought over Kid’s hat.
“Thanks.” Kid settled it on his head. Heyes studied him. “Not a word, Heyes. Not a word.”
Heyes didn’t utter a sound as Kid Curry went in search of the horse.
“Will you stop looking at me!” Kid pulled his hat further down on his head as he rode beside Heyes.
“Sorry, Kid it’s just that…Well really you don’t have much hair.”
“Well, sheesh Heyes, I hadn’t noticed.”
“Now don’t get proddy again. It’s just a surprise every time I look over at you.”
“Then stop lookin’!”
“You know there’s one good thing to come out of this.”
“How can anything good have come of this? I’ve been beaten and practically scalped!”
“Well, you won’t be recognised for a while. I mean the wanted posters definitely don’t mention Kid Curry being bal…I mean not having…” Heyes smiled innocently as Kid glared at him. “In fact it’s something to consider. I mean they always say dark hair, blond hair. Maybe we should have changed our appearance more often.” Heyes turned to Kid wondering what his friend thought of the idea. In response Kid’s eyes narrowed and he gave Heyes his best gunfighter’s glare.
“You want a different hair style? Let me oblige you. I got a razor in my bag.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
Kid Curry urged his horse closer.
“You’re the betting man, and in the mood I’m in, what do you think the odds are?”
Heyes looked at his friend and didn’t like what he saw in his eyes.