By Maz McCoy
They had finally lost the posse. Eight men had been on their trail since they were spotted in the small town of Ringwood. On his way from the hotel to the saloon, Heyes’ eyes had narrowed when he saw a commotion outside the sheriff’s office. Several men had gathered. Voices were raised excitedly. Fingers pointed along the street. He quickened his pace along the boardwalk, entering the saloon at a trot. Spotting Kid leaning on the bar and talking to a pretty, buxom blonde, he walked over, grabbed his friend’s arm and dragged him away from the startled saloon girl.
“What..?” was all Kid managed to say, as his partner hauled him through the bat wing doors. Heyes pointed along the street just as a deputy spotted them. A cry went up and the chase was on. They headed for their horses, leapt into the saddle and, as the bullets started flying, rode for their lives.
They rode hard for the rest of the day. Gradually, the dust cloud, marking the posse’s progress, grew further away. When they crossed the river, marking the county line, they hoped it would disappear entirely but these were a persistent bunch. After a lot of hard riding, the dust cloud finally disappeared from view.
Heyes and Kid eased their horses down a shale covered hillside. The animals shifted nervously, nostrils flaring, as they struggled to maintain their footing. Suddenly, Heyes’ horse stumbled, throwing the dark-haired man over its head. Heyes landed with a thud and went tumbling down the hill in a cloud of dust and stones. Riding ahead of his partner, Kid turned in the saddle in time to see his friend tumble head over heels before ending up on his back in the dirt. Kid pulled his horse up sharp.
“Heyes?” he asked, as the dust settled. “You alright?”
Heyes groaned but did not move. Kid dropped from the saddle and hurried to his friend’s side.
Two stunned brown eyes peered back at him and Heyes groaned again.
“Anything broke?” Kid asked, as he stood over his partner.
“Feels like everything!”
Kid reached down and picked up Heyes’ hat from where it had fallen on the ground. He whacked it against his leg, raising a cloud of dust.
“Think you can stand?” he asked.
“Nope. Never again.”
“Well, see you around,” Kid said casually. He tossed the black hat onto Heyes’ chest and headed for the horses. Heyes head shot up.
“What are you doin’?”
“There’s a posse on our tail.”
“And you’d just leave me?” Heyes propped himself up on his elbows.
“Well I figured, you wouldn’t want me to get caught too.”
“You’d just leave me? Break up the set?” Heyes asked, getting to his feet. Kid crouched beside his friend’s horse.
“Well, would you want them to catch me?” the blond man asked, as he gently felt the animal’s leg.
“No,” Heyes admitted, brushing the dust from his clothes. He settled his hat on his head. “But I didn’t expect you to leave me. I just got thrown from my horse! Coulda been hurt bad.” He stood beside his friend, looking around. Kid looked up at him.
“Are you?” he asked, meeting his friend’s gaze.
“Well, no, but that’s not the point.”
“Well, you look fine to me,” Kid said with a smile. Heyes considered this.
“How is it?” Heyes asked, indicating the horse’s leg.
“Not good. You can’t ride him.” Kid looked at his own, tired, animal. They had no choice but to ride double. Both men knew they wouldn’t be able to do so for long. Heyes collected his saddle bags.
Kid pulled himself back into the saddle, kicked his foot free of the stirrup and his partner climbed up behind. They rode on, leaving Heyes’ horse munching grass.
After another hour it was obvious the horse could carry them no further. There had been no sign of the posse either. They pulled to a halt at the edge of a wood and Heyes slid off. Kid dismounted, removing their saddle bags. Letting the horse go, the men swung the bags over their shoulders and headed into the trees and out of sight.
Although the sun was shining the forest was dark and damp. A fungal smell hung in the air as they made their way through a mass of low branches. If the posse was still following they would have to fight their way through the dense vegetation too. A low branch knocked Kid’s hat off. He picked it up and replaced it, grumbling. Eventually they broke through onto a track, dappled by the occasional patch of sunlight. The trail had not been used for some time.
“I didn’t know you were gonna lead us on a cross country hike Heyes,” Kid complained, as he looked down at his mud caked boots.
“Well you could have stayed with your horse.”
“I wanted to stay in town!” Kid moaned. “I didn’t get the chance for a hot meal or a bath.”
“It didn’t look like your mind was on either when I dragged you away from that girl.”
Kid smiled as he remembered Debbie. Yeah, she sure was something.
“Of course if you’d preferred for me to have let the sheriff catch you…”
A look was thrown in Heyes’ direction. Kid scanned the trail. Then he turned back to his partner, watching as Heyes looked up at the dense canopy. A frown appeared on Heyes’ face.
“We’re lost ain’t we?” Kid stated.
“No!” Heyes replied a little too quickly.
“No. We’re just…not where I expected us to be.”
“And just how far away d’you think we are, from where you expected us to be?”
“I’m not sure,” he admitted.
“But that don’t make us lost?”
His partner did his best not to smile.
“No Kid, course not.”
Kid pointed to his left. Should they go that way? Heyes smiled and nodded and they set off once more.
After a while, the undergrowth grew denser; the track narrower. Branches brushed against them, twigs caught on their clothes. The forest floor was covered with a thick layer of rotting leaves. The humidity increased and clouds of insects buzzed about them. Both men were soon flicking away flies and mosquitoes from their faces. Kid slapped the back of his neck.
“Ow!” he yelled and Heyes shot his friend a look. “Damn insects. Something bit me,” Kid complained.
They trudged on, Kid in the lead. He brushed aside a long low branch, then let it go, reaching up to scratch at the bite. The branch swung back and hit Heyes in the face.
“What?” Kid looked back over his shoulder.
“That hit me!”
“Oh, sorry.” He scratched his neck again. “Darn thing itches!”
“Just leave it alone.” Kid scratched again. Heyes shook his head. “Leave it alone!” Heyes batted Kid’s hand away.
“I gathered that, but if you keep scratching it you’ll just make it worse.”
Kid scratched the bite and Heyes rolled his eyes. As they walked Kid continued to scratch at the bite and mutter. Heyes watched.
Itch, itch. Scratch, scratch.
A heavy sigh.
Itch, itch. Scratch, scratch.
Heyes could stand it no longer.
“Will you leave that thing alone!” Heyes told his friend, slapping away Kid’s hand from the back of his neck.
“That’s because you keep scratching it.”
“Take a look.” Kid turned his back to his friend and tugged on his collar. Heyes let out a reluctant sigh. “Is it red?”
“I don’t know. I’m not looking.”
“Aww Heyes, come on!” Kid pleaded.
“All right, stand still.” Heyes pulled Kid’s collar down and peered at the large, red mark on the back of his friend’s neck. “Hmmm.”
“What does that mean?” Kid asked, anxiously. “Is it bad?”
“It’s a bite Kid.”
“Yeah, but it’s a big one, huh?”
“It looks standard bite-size to me.”
“But it hurts.” Heyes pressed on the bite and Kid squirmed. “Ow!” he complained. “What the heck are you doin’?”
“You’re right Kid, it hurts.”
“But is it okay? Do I need to do anything to it? Should we get to a doctor?”
“Sheesh Kid, you’ve had bigger bullet wounds!” Heyes exclaimed.
“Well that don’t mean this can’t hurt!”
“Just leave it alone,” Heyes advised once more and walked past him. “Get to a doctor for an insect bite! Sheesh!”
Kid watched him go, then, scratching the back of his neck, he hurried to catch up.
Eventually, thankfully, the trail grew wider, the undergrowth less dense. Insects continued to trouble them but something else attracted Kid’s attention. He stopped suddenly.
“What was that?” Kid looked around.
“What was what?” Heyes asked, with little interest.
“That noise. Sounded like a growl.”
“I didn’t hear anything.” Heyes looked around just in case.
Nothing moved or growled.
“Listen,” Kid advised. Heyes listened. Still nothing moved. Nothing growled.
“You probably just imagined it. Probably just your stomach.”
“I know what I heard Heyes.”
“Yeah, right. You sure it wasn’t some giant insect, preparing to take another bite out of ya?”
“Very funny,” Kid replied as Heyes pushed past him. “Maybe it was a skunk!”
Heyes stopped, turning slowly to face his friend.
“That’s not funny.”
They walked on. Kid looked over his shoulder and stopped every now and then to listen, but whatever he had heard didn’t seem to be there anymore. After another half an hour fighting their way through the undergrowth, Heyes stopped in a clearing created by a fallen tree.
“We could walk around in here for days,” Kid moaned, as he sat down on the moss covered tree trunk and dropped his saddle bags to the ground. Heyes pushed back his hat and sat beside his friend.
“Well we have to come to the edge of the trees eventually,” he observed. “This can’t go on forever.”
“Yeah,” Kid agreed. “The trouble is we coulda been walking in circles up ‘til now.”
They sat in companionable silence, each man taking the opportunity to catch his breath and rest his aching feet. Their boots were not designed for long walks through a forest.
“D’you think the posse gave up?” Kid asked, conversationally.
“Well they’d have to be pretty determined to follow us this far.”
“Yeah. I mean you’d have to be a dumb fool to walk this far.”
Heyes looked at his partner, brown eyes meeting innocent blue ones. The friends exchanged a smile.
After a while, Kid got to his feet and picked up his bags.
“Well come on, let’s get going. The sooner we get moving, the sooner we’re outta here.” Heyes nodded his agreement.
Kid strode into the undergrowth. Heyes let out a heavy sigh and prepared to follow his friend. A sudden crashing sound filled the air; the sound of breaking branches and snapping twigs, along with a startled cry from Kid.
“Kid?” There was no reply. “Kid?” Heyes set off into the undergrowth after his friend and then pulled up quickly. The ground gave way before him and he could see Kid, lying on his back, at the bottom of a wooded slope. The path he’d taken to the bottom, was marked out by freshly broken branches and crushed vegetation.
“Kid, you all right?” Heyes called. There was no response. Heyes grabbed hold of the nearest tree to support himself as he started to descend the slope. His feet slipped on the wet leaves and muddy ground and he began to pick up speed. Heyes grabbed at passing branches to slow his descent and, eventually, he reached his partner’s side. Kid lay still, eyes closed, his body covered in twigs, mud and leaves.
“Kid?” Heyes said, tentatively, as he placed a hand on his friend’s arm. Kid groaned.
“I hate the woods,” Kid moaned, as he opened his eyes. Heyes smiled, glad his friend was okay. “I think I’m lying on a rock.” The blond man moved cautiously, easing himself into a sitting position and revealing a sizeable stone on the ground beneath him. He winced, his body bruised by the fall. Heyes looked down at him.
“Anything broke?” he asked.
“Sure feels like it.”
“Think you can stand?”
“I don’t know.” Kid noticed Heyes smiling at him. These questions seemed a little familiar. Heyes picked up Kid’s hat from the bush it had fallen on. He brushed off some leaves.
“Well, see you around!” Heyes grinned and threw Kid’s hat at him. Kid’s mouth dropped open and Heyes smiled back. Realisation hit the blond man.
“Sheesh, how’d you remember all of that?” Kid muttered.
Heyes held out a hand, which Kid grabbed, and Heyes pulled his partner to his feet. Helpfully, he brushed Kid’s back to remove the forest debris.
“You sure you’re okay?” Heyes asked, with genuine concern.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just wounded pride and a few bruises,” Kid assured him. He settled his hat back on his head and bent down to pick up his saddlebags.
Heyes’ head snapped up, listening.
“What is it? Somethin’ growling?”
“No.” A smile broke out on Heyes’ face. “Kid, I think you found a river.”
Heyes headed towards the sound of moving water.
“Come on!” he called over his shoulder.
“Oh terrific,” Kid complained. “Now we’re gonna drown.”
They made their way to the bank of a tranquil river. Sunlight danced on the water, dragonflies hovered over the surface and a fish jumped into the air, then flopped back beneath the water, as they approached.
“Sure is pretty,” Heyes observed, as they stood side by side on the bank, watching the water flow past them, tumbling over green, algae covered boulders.
“Yeah,” Kid agreed, taking a moment to enjoy the peaceful scene. He bent down and scooped a handful of cool water. Taking a drink he looked along the bank, searching for a way along the river or across it. Heyes copied his partner. The water was refreshing as it trickled down his throat and he wiped his wet hand over his face, then around the back of his neck, to cool himself. “What d’you think?” Kid asked.
“Doesn’t look like there’s an easy way along the bank,” Heyes mused.
They separated, each looking for a shallower way across the river or an easy route downstream.
“I guess we could always swim,” Kid suggested, lightly.
“Not necessary Kid,” Heyes called back cryptically. Kid headed towards his friend.
Heyes pointed triumphantly. Kid followed the direction of his friend’s gaze and saw an old canoe resting in the bushes, on the bank. “Oh no,” Kid groaned. Heyes smiled at him. “You’ve got to be kiddin’?”
Clearly his partner wasn’t.
“Heyes when was the last time you were in a canoe?” Kid asked, as Heyes examined the wooden vessel.
“Probably the same time you were.” He reached in and pulled out, first one paddle, and then a second.
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Kid remembered. “And we both fell out!”
“That’s ‘cos you wouldn’t sit still.”
“’Cos you wouldn’t let me paddle!”
“Well, it’s like you said, we were kids. We’re older and wiser now. Besides how hard can it be?”
Kid gave him a look.
“You always wanted to be Daniel Boone,” Heyes reminded his friend. “Well, now’s your chance. All you need is a coonskin hat!” Heyes’ enthusiasm was beginning to annoy Kid.
“It’s probably got a hole in it, that’s why it’s abandoned.”
“Nope, she’s a sound vessel,” Heyes reported.
“What about those?” Kid pointed to the Indian markings painted along both sides.
“What about ‘em?”
“Well maybe the owner’s around here somewhere. D’you want trouble with Indians?” Kid looked around.
“There are no Indians around here.”
“You don’t know that! You don’t even know where ‘here’ is.”
They looked at each other. Heyes gave a heavy sigh.
“You got a better idea?” he asked.
“Nope,” Kid admitted and Heyes smiled, enthusiastically.
“So d’you want to sit in front or back? Oh, I mean bow or stern?”
“Neither,” Kid replied. His partner was clearly relishing the idea of a canoe trip down river. Heyes looked like a schoolboy.
“Come on Kid, where’s your sense of adventure?”
“Usually in my holster or on the back of a horse.”
“Look, you don’t want to walk anymore and we can’t get downstream overland so…it’s the perfect solution!”
Heyes pushed the canoe into the water. It floated. They waited; watching. No leaks appeared. Heyes held out a paddle to his friend, expectantly.
“You’d better let me paddle this time,” Kid warned.
“I will, I will,” his partner promised.
“And don’t tell me you were the Champeen canoer of all Southern Utah ‘cos I know that ain’t true.”
Heyes smiled but said nothing.
Kid took the paddle and stepped into the canoe. It wobbled, he tried to regain his balance and put out a hand to steady himself.
“Don’t rock it!”
“I’m not even in it!”
The canoe wobbled again and Kid sat down, then edged his way towards the front…he meant the bow. Heyes threw their saddle bags into the middle of the canoe. Then he stepped in and it wobbled once more.
“What are you doin’?”
“I’m getting in.”
“Well stop rocking the thing!”
“I can’t help it.”
“Just sit down will ya!”
“Sheesh, Kid relax! We’re just going to have a nice gentle canoe trip down river,” his partner assured him, as he settled himself into the stern of the craft, paddle at the ready.
“Ah ha! You ready ship mate?” Heyes asked, practicing his pirate voice.
“Heyes, so help me if you yell, ‘there she blows’ I’ll flatten ya!”
“Call me Ishmael!” Heyes said instead.
“Nothing, just paddle.”
“Who’s steering?” Kid asked.
“Well tell me when you want me to stop paddling okay?”
“Okay,” Heyes agreed, then using his paddle he pushed off from the shore and they drifted out into the current.
Kid began to paddle. The current took hold of the canoe and they moved gently downstream. Kid had to admit, it was a good idea. He kept paddling and the canoe turned, heading towards the far bank.
“Heyes?” Kid called over his shoulder. He wasn’t about to risk turning round. The bank grew closer. “Heyes?” There was no response but water from a paddle flicked his back. They bumped into a rock and the canoe began to turn around.
“Heyes will you answer me? What’s happening? You’re supposed to be steering.” Kid’s voice had an edge of panic to it as the canoe turned full circle. They drifted down stream again, only this time they were going backwards. “HEYES!”
“Will you shut up!” Heyes snapped, as he frantically tried to remember how to steer.
“Oh well at least you’re still there,” Kid said lightly. “For a minute I thought you’d got out. You might have noticed we’re going backwards!”
“Kid you’re paddling too hard,” Heyes informed him. “Just let me paddle for a minute ‘till I can figure this thing out.”
“What d’you mean, figure this thing out? I thought you knew what you were doing? What was that you said? How hard can it be?”
“Alright! Just give me a minute here.” Heyes paddled hard on the right. The canoe headed back upstream and turned to the left. He paddled on the left. The canoe turned to the right. Okay, so that was how it worked. Now what about Kid? Heyes paddled hard on his right and the canoe began to turn full circle. Once they were facing downstream again he stopped. “See, easy!” he said, triumphantly.
“Hmmph!” was Kid’s response.
“Kid you paddle on the right, I’ll paddle on the left. Okay?”
“All right, I’m just gonna move the saddlebags…” Heyes reached forward and the canoe rocked from side to side.
“Will you sit still? You’re gonna tip us over!” Kid yelled.
“I just want to get the bags in the middle.”
“They’re fine where they are. Just sit still okay?”
“Kid they’re affecting the balance of the canoe.”
“The only thing affecting the balance here, is you!”
“Well then you move ‘em!”
“I can’t. If I turn round we’ll tip over. I ain’t moving, Heyes.”
Heyes smiled, amused by the panic in the voice of the, so called, fastest gun in the west. He left the bags where they were and they paddled on. In time they developed a steady rhythm and, after another bump or two into shore, Heyes began to get the hang of steering their vessel. Heyes noticed Kid’s shoulders relax too. Once both men were feeling more confident, they actually took time to look around and, even though Kid would never admit it, he was beginning to enjoy it. They listened to the birds in the trees, the gently trickle of water over rocks and the plop of the paddle.
“See this isn’t so hard,” a happy Hannibal Heyes said as he plunged the paddle beneath the surface of the water and, pulling back, felt the resistance against the blade. Kid did not reply. “Don’t tell me you’re not enjoying this.”
“All right I won’t.”
“Don’t you feel like one of the early explorers, forging our way through uncharted waters?”
“No. Now will you concentrate on paddling.”
Heyes smiled and gently moved from side to side, rocking the canoe.
“What are you doin’?” Kid cried as he grabbed hold of the canoe.
“Nothin’,” his friend replied, innocently, stifling a smile. Once he was sure the canoe was not going to rock any more, Kid picked up his paddle again. They drifted downstream, moving faster as their confidence increased.
“Heyes, what’s that?” Kid asked, sometime later.
Heyes strained his ears. Up ahead he could hear the sound of rushing water. Fast, flowing water. A sudden look of horror crossed Kid’s face.
“Heyes, is that what I think it is?”
“RAPIDS!” Heyes yelled, just as the current began to increase. “Faster! Paddle faster!” Heyes yelled.
“FASTER? Are you CRAZY? We’re not being pulled there fast enough for ya?”
“BACKWARDS! Paddle faster, BACKWARDS, Kid!”
Kid began to paddle like crazy, backwards. Heyes did the same. The canoe continued downstream bobbing about furiously. Kid plunged the paddle beneath the water and pulled with all his might, and then he did the same again and again. Behind him, Heyes was paddling as fast as he could; pulling back on each stroke with all his strength. Neither man was having much affect on the direction the canoe was taking. The water was choppy now, splashing over the sides and into their faces. Boulders loomed, as the river narrowed.
Hitting a large wave, the bow was thrown high into the air and Kid tumbled backwards, his paddle falling behind him, as he struggled to regain his balance. The water raged in an angry white torrent about them. The wooded bank was replaced by steep rocky cliffs as the river made its descent. Up ahead, Heyes could see nothing but foaming water. He paddled hard as Kid pulled himself to his knees and, grabbed hold of the paddle, just as the river plunged between two enormous rocky outcrops. The canoe was tossed about and the men inside no longer had any control over the direction it took. A large wave hit them side on.
Suddenly, Heyes found himself underwater. The sound was deafening, water surged around him. He had no idea which way was up as he tumbled over and over. He made swimming motions but had little control of where he was going, and his lungs threatened to burst. Finally, Heyes’ head broke the surface and he gasped for air but got a mouthful of water instead. Coughing, he searched desperately for a sign of his partner. There was only water raging all around him, carrying him along at speed. He caught a brief glimpse of a brown hat and then he was hurled towards the rocks. A pain ran through his head and darkness engulfed him.
Kid groaned and opened his eyes, looking up at the blue sky. He was exhausted, soaking wet, battered and bruised, but he was alive. He groaned again and turned his head to one side. Heyes was lying on the wide sandbank about ten feet away.
“Heyes?” Kid dissolved into a fit of coughing. There was no answer. “Heyes?”
Still no answer. His friend did not move. Breathing heavily, Kid pulled himself onto his knees. Water cascaded off him, running down his face, dripping from his hair and nose. He wiped it from his eyes. Sand and grit stuck to his wet clothes; clothes that felt cold and uncomfortable as they clung to his body. On hands and knees he crawled towards his partner.
“Heyes?” He touched his friend on the arm. No response. There was a bruise on Heyes’ left temple. Kid scanned his friend’s body for any other sign of injury. Seeing none he returned his attention to the head wound. There was a small cut at the hairline. Blood mixed with water from his wet hair, ran down the side of Heyes’ head. Kid removed his bandana and placed it gently against the wound, hoping to stop the bleeding.
Heyes groaned and his legs moved. Slowly, he regained consciousness.
“Easy,” Kid cautioned.
Heyes groaned once more, and then coughed up what felt like a lungful of water. Kid watched with concern. Heyes turned onto his side, gasping for breath before collapsing onto his back.
“Did I drown?” Heyes asked, without opening his eyes. Kid smiled.
“Don’t sound like it. Least, not unless I did too.”
“No Heyes, you didn’t drown.” He waited until his friend’s breathing returned to normal. “You okay?”
“No,” the dark-haired man stated, definitely. He touched his head wound and flinched. Finally he focussed on Kid. “You all right?”
“I think so.”
“Whose idea was it to take the canoe?”
“I thought you’d say that.”
Heyes pulled himself up onto his knees. He closed his eyes tight as a wave of nausea engulfed him and then sat with his back against a boulder. Kid held out the bandana and, taking it, Heyes held it against his head.
“I don’t ever want to get in a canoe again,” he stated.
“Well, unless you can climb that cliff partner, I think you’re gonna have to.”
Heyes looked up, puzzled. They were at the bottom of a deep ravine. The steep sides loomed over them appearing un-climbable. The only way out, was downstream. Of course they could always swim it.
“Oh terrific!” Heyes closed his eyes and leant back against the rock.
Kid looked along the sandbank to where the canoe had washed up. It was rocked by the occasional gentle wave. A sudden thought came to him and he reached for his gun. Removing it he gave a heavy sigh.
“Aw, my gun’s wet.”
“That’s all you’re worried about?” Heyes asked in astonishment. “We nearly drown and all you can think about is your gun?”
“It’s a good gun. It’s important to me.”
“Not drowning was important to me!”
“Well you didn’t! Although it could be arranged.”
They sat in awkward silence for a while. Kid opened the chamber of his gun and tipped out the wet bullets. He wiped them on his equally wet jeans, then sighing, returned them to the chamber. He twirled it a couple of times then placed it back in the holster. Finally getting to his feet he walked over to the canoe. He was surprised to see their saddlebags still inside, along with the paddles. Maybe their luck was changing.
“The saddlebags are still here,” he told Heyes. “Got the paddles too. Hey look it’s my hat!” Kid reached into the reeds at the edge of the water and picked up his hat. It was soaking wet. He placed it on a rock in the sun to dry.
“Any sign of mine?” Heyes asked, hopefully.
“Can’t see it. It’s time you replaced that old thing anyway Heyes.”
“I like that hat. I’ve told you that before.”
“I know, I know, but it sure has seen better days. I just thought…” he stopped.
“What is it?”
Kid strode out into the river, wading up to his knees into the tall rushes that lined the bank. Bending down, he disappeared for a few moments and then returned holding up a dripping, black hat. He grinned at his partner.
“Thanks,” Heyes said.
“Well like I’ve said before, it ain’t you without it.” Kid placed it on the rock next to his own and returned to his friend’s side. “How you feelin’?”
“Okay, I guess.” He held out the bandana, the bleeding had stopped.
“I guess we could camp here tonight, head down river in the morning.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I’ll see if I can find anything to make a fire.”
Try as he might, Kid could find nothing dry enough to start a fire with. Even their hair, which he knew could be used as tinder, was wet. While the sun was out, they lay their wet clothes on the rocks to dry, as much as possible, and then spent a cold, damp night huddled against the rocks trying to sleep. Sometime after midnight Heyes suggested they could always set fire to the canoe, a thought that Kid was, momentarily, tempted by.
Kid was particularly grumpy when he realised that no fire also meant no hot food, although there was some dry jerky in the saddlebags to chew on.
Neither man was in the best of moods when the sun rose over the cliff the following morning. Heyes head ached and Kid complained that his clothes were still damp.
“Boy I’m hungry,” Kid stated, and his stomach rumbled as if to confirm the fact. “At least I ain’t gotta put up with your coffee.” Kid blew on his hands trying to warm them. “Guess that’s one good thing about not having a fire.”
“If we had some you’d drink it right now and be grateful, so don’t complain!” Heyes got slowly to his feet. His back ached. He picked up his hat. “You don’t hear me complain about your coffee.”
“That’s ‘cos I make good coffee.”
“Ha! Who told you that?”
Kid looked up, confused.
“Well like you said, you never complained about it.”
“Just raised to be too polite I guess.”
“Are you saying you don’t like my coffee?”
“No, I’m saying I don’t complain about it. Don’t go on and on about it the way some folk do.” Heyes picked up his hat and placed it on his head with a little more force than was necessary and winced.
“You okay?” Kid watched as Heyes screwed his eyes tight against the pain. “Heyes?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m okay.”
Kid walked into the water and pulled the canoe off the sandbank. When he saw Heyes was ready, he climbed into the front and picked up his paddle. Heyes climbed in, noting that Kid didn’t complain about the canoe wobbling this time. Heyes pushed away from the shore and they began to paddle again.
The river grew wider as the landscape around them changed. The cliffs gave way to open plain and they paddled on. Before long they saw plumes of smoke ahead, the first signs of a community. The smell of a campfire and the aroma of cooking food reached them. Kid’s stomach gurgled.
“Heyes look!” Kid called over his shoulder. Up ahead, lining the river bank were Indian children. Beyond them they could see the tops of several tepees. The children watched as the two white men in the Indian canoe paddled towards them. “What do we do?”
“Just keep paddling Kid,” Heyes suggested. “Looks like there’s a settlement beyond the trees.” The rooftops of buildings came into view. The children were soon joined by three women and all continued to watch in silence as the men canoed past.
“Howdy,” Kid said, and gave a wave. Only one small boy waved back.
When they had their backs to the Indian encampment and the people on the bank, both men began to paddle faster, a town now in their sights.
The river carried them towards a watermill. They steered the canoe into the bank, coming to a halt alongside a small wooden dock.
It felt good to be on dry land again. With their saddlebags over their shoulders they headed into town.
“I need a hot bath,” Kid stated. “Then a hot meal and a soft bed.”
“How much you got?” Heyes wondered.
Kid searched his pockets and stopped dead in his tracks.
“It’s all gone. It musta fallen out in the river.” His shoulders sagged. “What about you?”
Heyes checked his pockets. Nothing.
“Oh no,” Kid groaned. “No bath, no bed.” A sudden realisation hit him. “No food!”
“Not necessarily,” his partner told him.
“Aw Heyes, what’s the chance of them having a basin of eggs on the counter?”
“Not that.” Heyes removed his hat, feeling inside the crown. He withdrew a soggy, by still spendable, bill. Kid smiled. “D’you still think I should get rid of this hat?”
“Never!” Kid slapped his partner on the shoulder and they headed for the hotel.
It was amazing what a long soak in a hot bath could do for the disposition of two non-practicing outlaws. Freshly scrubbed, smelling sweetly and fingers bordering on the pruney, they headed to the saloon. A couple of low ante poker games were underway and after ordering a beer, they headed for the tables.
“Mind if we sit in?” Heyes asked. No one did. Several hands later, they had considerably increased their meagre funds. Having decided to sit a few games out, Kid was leaning on the bar, talking to a young woman who insisted he call her Rosalyn. A large Indian entered the saloon. The man was tall; so tall that he had to duck as he passed through the doorway. He was also wide; his leather vest, which had seen better days, hung from broad shoulders. He had long jet black hair and wore a black cowboy hat with three eagle’s feathers in the band. On worn moccasins, he strode purposefully towards the bar.
“Looking for two men. Came in canoe,” he said and the bartender, helpfully pointed at Kid. The Indian walked towards him. The young blond outlaw found himself eye to chest with the large man. Rosalyn moved away. Kid looked up.
“You come here in canoe?”
“Well…er…I guess, yes,” Kid stated. This guy was big. Very big. “D’you want it?”
Kid shot a look at his partner.
“Well I’m sure we can sell it to you for a fair price.”
Watching from the table, Heyes decided this was the point at which his skills would be needed. Making his excuses to the other players, he pushed back his chair, stood up and approached the bar.
“Howdy. My name’s Joshua Smith. I see you’ve met my partner Thaddeus Jones.” Heyes held out his hand. The Indian did not take it. Undeterred, Heyes ploughed on. “Did I hear right? You want to buy our canoe?”
“Canoe. You paddle it here?”
“Yes, sir, Mr…?”
“Well with a name like that you’ve gotta have a canoe,” Heyes told him. He pointed to a free table. “Shall we?”
Raging Waters nodded and they sat down.
“Where you get canoe?”
“Oh, way up river.” Heyes waved a hand, vaguely, in what he hoped was the right direction. Kid waved too.
They both nodded.
“On river bank. At base of forest. In bushes.”
Kid and Heyes realised that he wasn’t asking them, he was telling them.
“You gonna tell me you paint markings on it yourself too?”
They looked at him, mouths slightly open. Heyes composed himself first.
“You smart guy!” He pounded Heyes on the back and the dark-haired man winced, as the air was forced out of his lungs.
“We didn’t know,” Kid told him. “It was just lying there, with no one around.”
“We thought it was abandoned,” Heyes added, wondering if the Indian had broken any of his ribs.
“You always take things you find lying around?” Raging Waters asked. “What are you thieves?”
Kid and Heyes exchanged a look. Well…
“Look, we’re really sorry about taking your canoe, but we didn’t damage it and we were really grateful for the use of it,” Heyes told him.
“We’re grateful,” Heyes repeated.
“I tell Sheriff you stole canoe,” Raging Waters said, suddenly getting to his feet.
The Indian stopped. He looked down at them, half out of their seats.
“How grateful?” he asked again.
“Very grateful,” Heyes said.
“Really, very grateful,” Kid confirmed.
All three sat back at the table.
“Two days canoe rental.” The Indian held his hand out. Kid and Heyes exchanged a look. Heyes reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out some money. He placed a few coins into the large hand. Raging Waters looked into the distance, his hand was still open. Kid placed some coins into his hand. The hand stayed open. Heyes added another coin. Still open. Kid added another. The hand did not move.
“Oh you’ve got to be kiddin’!” Kid exclaimed.
“Never kid about sheriff,” the Indian said, looking Kid in the eye.
“That’s all we have,” Heyes told him, as he placed one final coin in the man’s hand.
“Not true, but it’s enough,” Raging Waters, replied, closing his hand around the money. “You got somewhere to stay?” he asked as he stood up.
“Yeah, we’ve got a room at the hotel,” Kid told him.
“Pity, I got nice tepee I could rent you. Do good rate for canoeists.” Laughing at his own joke he headed towards the bar.
Someone pounding on the hotel room door woke Kid from a dream. The pounding continued, dragging him from the arms of a beautiful Indian maiden, who he had bravely rescued from the raging rapids. Just as she was showing him how grateful she was …POUND! POUND! POUND!
“What the..?” he groaned, his hand on his gun before he was fully awake.
In the other bed, Heyes also groaned and pulled the pillow over his head.
“Tell ‘em to go away!” was his muffled response.
Barefoot and dressed only in his long-johns, Kid padded to the door.
“Who is it?”
“Sheriff Atley. Open up!”
“Sheriff!” Kid hissed. Heyes was out of bed and reaching for his pants. “What do you want Sheriff?” Kid asked, casually.
“Open up boys! Need to talk to ya!”
Kid looked at his partner. His pants already buttoned, Heyes sat on the bed, pulling on his boots. He nodded and ran his hands through his hair, brushing it from his eyes. Kid opened the door and Sheriff John Atley strode into the room. He was a stocky man in his late forties. He looked the two men over.
“What can we do for you sheriff?” Heyes asked, innocently. Kid tightened his grip on his gun.
“Did you give an Indian by the name of Raging Waters, money this evening?”
“Yes,” Heyes confirmed.
“Well then you’d better get dressed and come with me.”
“Why?” Kid asked. “We paid him for…” but he stopped when he saw Heyes give a slight shake of his head.
“Just get dressed,” the sheriff ordered.
Minutes later they stood in an alley beside the saloon looking at the slumped figure of Raging Waters. The large man sat on the ground, leaning back against the building, legs out in front of him. He was singing in a language neither of them understood. Raging Waters was clearly raging drunk.
“He spent the money you gave him on whiskey,” the sheriff stated. “Now in my view that makes you responsible for this.”
“Sheriff you can’t hold us responsible for this. Whoever sold him the…” Heyes began, but the look he received, shut him up.
“You should have known better! Heck why’d d’you think he’s called Raging Waters?”
“’Cos of the canoe?” Kid ventured.
“No. It’s ‘cos he can’t take his drink. Just one sniff of whiskey and he’s singing. I thought after last time he’d stop. Heck we only just got the stable rebuilt. If his wife don’t scalp him this time he’ll be one lucky man.” He looked at the partners. “So here’s what you’re gonna do.”
They listened intently.
“You can take him back to his people or you can stay in jail with him until he sobers up. What’s it to be boys?” The sheriff waited for their response.
Kid looked at Heyes. Heyes looked at Raging Waters. Raging Waters looked up and gave them a lop-sided smile. Heyes looked at the sheriff.
“We’ll take him home,” he stated.
“Thought you might.” The sheriff hitched up his pants. “I’ll be back from my rounds to check on ya. Don’t disappoint me boys. I got a very large jail cell.” With a parting smile, he headed off along the boardwalk, his badge glistening in the moonlight.
Kid and Heyes looked at the Indian and then at each other.
“You get his left side,” Heyes said and reaching down he grabbed hold of Raging Water’s right arm.
“You mean we’re gonna do it?”
“Well you heard the man. It’s either this or jail. Which would you prefer?”
Kid muttered something and grabbed hold of the Indian’s left arm. They managed to haul him to his feet. The large man opened his eyes studying them intently.
“You want my canoe again?” he asked, recognising them.
“No.” Heyes led him into the street.
“Where we going?”
“We’re taking you home.” Kid flinched as the big man stepped on his foot.
“You good men.” He patted Heyes’ stomach. “Skinny though.”
Kid smiled at his partner who was trying to keep Raging Waters upright.
“You need feeding good.”
They headed across the street.
“No, this way,” Kid said, turning him around.
“You married?” the Indian’s gaze fell on the blond man.
“No,” Kid told him, absently, as he focussed on getting the man to walk straight.
“I think my daughter, Blue Flower, would like you. She good cook. You like my daughter?”
“I’ve never met your daughter,” Kid reminded Raging Waters. The three men headed out of town.
“You don’t like my daughter?” The Indian’s tone grew serious and he pulled up sharp.
“I don’t know her.”
“You don’t like her?” Two intense dark eyes peered at Kid.
“We’ve never met.”
Raging Waters considered this.
“I introduce you,” he decided. “I think you be good for her. She need good man.” He turned his attention to Heyes. “You think he make good husband?”
Heyes smiled at Kid and got a glare back.
“Oh sure,” Heyes said, encouragingly. “Why he was saying just the other day, how he’d love to get married; just hasn’t met the right woman yet.”
“Don’t encourage him!” Kid hissed across the back of the Indian’s shoulders.
“My daughter good woman, make good wife. Too skinny though. Wilful sometimes. Not like men I choose for her.” He was silent for a while and they concentrated on getting him to put one foot in front of the other. “You like skinny woman?”
Kid didn’t know what to say.
“I…er…I’ve never really thought about…”
“He loves all kinds of women,” Heyes told the Indian, helpfully. “I’m sure he’d love to meet your daughter. Especially if she’s a good cook.”
“Joshua!” Kid snapped.
“She like blue eyes,” Raging Waters told Heyes. “I think she like him.”
“I’m sure she would.” Heyes agreed with the big man.
“Will you stop it!” Kid glared at his partner, who was clearly enjoying himself despite the fact that the Indian appeared to be getting heavier with each step they took.
Raging Waters began to sing again and they felt him sag in their arms. When they could take his weight no longer, he fell to his knees.
“This is ridiculous!” Kid complained. “We’re never gonna get him back there at this rate.”
Heyes looked behind them. They had travelled no more than twenty yards, in total.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said.
“I don’t think this is gonna work,” Kid told his partner as they made their way along the dock to where the canoe was still tied.
“Well if he won’t walk, what other choice do we have? Or you happy to spend the night in jail with him?” Heyes already knew Kid’s answer to that. “He’ll have you married to his daughter by morning if you do.”
Kid gave him a look.
“If we can’t get him in it…” Kid moved the big man’s arm around his shoulder, trying to keep him upright. “Heyes he could drown. Heck we could all drown.”
“We’re not gonna drown,” Heyes stated, confidently. They had reached the canoe. “Raging Waters!”
The Indian’s head rose.
“Look here’s your canoe.” Heyes pointed and the man followed his finger slowly.
“Yeah. Come on get in.”
Despite his inebriated state the Indian stepped gently into the wooden craft with long practiced ease. Kid was amazed that the canoe hardly moved, despite the man’s size. When Raging Waters had settled himself in the middle, Kid cautiously climbed into the front and picked up a paddle. The canoe rocked and Kid gulped, waiting for it to tip over. When the movement stopped, Heyes stepped into the back.
“You okay?” Heyes called to his partner.
“We go on trip?” Raging Waters asked, sleepily.
“We’re taking you home,” Heyes reminded him.
“You good men. You wanna marry my daughter? She need good husband,” he told them again.
“Not tonight,” Heyes said and he pushed away from the dock. With new found skills, they turned the canoe and headed back upstream, paddling hard against the current. For a while the only sounds were on the gentle flow of the river, the splash of the water from the paddles and the deep snoring of one large, inebriated Indian.
A dog’s bark, up ahead, told them the Indian encampment was close. The glow from several small fires broke through the darkness. They could see the silhouetted outline of someone moving in front of a tepee. Heyes steered the canoe towards the shore.
There was no dock along the river bank and using only the moonlight to guide them they searched for a suitable spot to land the canoe. Finally Kid pointed.
Heyes steered them towards the shallows. Kid climbed out only to find the water deeper than he expected. His boots quickly filled up.
“Terrific. Just terrific,” he moaned. He held the canoe steady as his partner climbed out. Between them they hauled the canoe onto the shore with the Indian still inside. They stood looking down at Raging Waters. He was fast asleep. “What do we do with him now?” Kid asked.
“I think we should leave him in there. It’s safe enough on the bank. He’s not about to float away.”
Kid was happy to agree. Neither man was aware of several pairs of eyes, including those belonging to Blue Flower herself, watching them in the darkness. The two men abandoned the canoe and crept away into the night, heading back to town.
Blue Flower walked along the riverbank, her footsteps so light they barely made an impression in the mud. Her father was asleep, his snores resonated about her. She sniffed, recognising the smell of whiskey on his breath. Blue Flower shook her head with disappointment and pushed back her long braid of black hair. What was she going to do with him? She knew what her mother would say about this. As she stood beside his prone form, other women joined her. They exchanged a look with the beautiful young woman. A discussion followed, a blanket was found and Raging Waters was covered and left in the canoe for the night. In the morning, he would have a sore head and his wife would be waiting to speak to him.
“We never did get to meet his daughter,” Heyes said as they followed the road back to town. “You know Kid it could have been the start of something real special. I mean she might have been a beautiful young woman. A real Indian Princess. Can you imagine it? Kid Curry and Princess Blue Flower.”
The fastest gun in the west, stopped dead in his tracks and Heyes stopped walking.
“Heyes you read too much you know that? Indian Princess! Sheesh!” He walked on.
“Well she could be!” Heyes hurried to catch up to his partner. “She could be beautiful. Did you think about that Kid? Did you think about what you could have been turning down? They might have made you a chief.”
“Aw Heyes, will you please shut up!”
The dark-haired man smiled.
A gentle tapping sound woke Kid early the next morning. He groaned and reached for his gun. Focussing bleary eyes on the door, Kid listened. The tap, tap, tap, came again. Whoever it was, it didn’t sound like the sheriff. With a heavy sigh and gun in hand, he headed for the door.
“I don’t care who it is, tell ‘em to go away,” Heyes mumbled from beneath his pillow.
“Who’s there?” Kid asked.
“Daughter, Raging Waters,” said a quiet, female voice.
Cautiously, Kid opened the door. A beautiful, young, Indian woman stood before him. She couldn’t be more than eighteen.
“I not be here,” she said, anxiously, shaking her head and looking along the corridor towards the stairs. Kid was aware that his mouth had dropped open and that he was staring. He stepped into the hallway, closing the door gently behind him.
“Well it sure looks like you’re here, to me,” he told her, turning on his most dazzling smile.
She looked down at her moccasins, searching for the words she needed.
“You, returned my father?” She met his gaze.
“Yes ma’am.” She really was beautiful. Her long, black hair cascaded down her back, dark eyelashes framed her large brown eyes, her mouth was… Kid pulled himself together. “You’re Blue Flower?”
“How you know my name?”
“Your father told us about you,” Kid explained. He pointed at his chest. “I’m Thaddeus.”
“Meet you, pleased, Thaddeus.” She smiled, then thought for a moment. “I come, thank you, for returning my father.”
Blue Flowers’ eyes met…blue eyes. She liked what she saw, despite the fact that the white man, in his bare feet, jeans and Henley, was holding a gun. Kid liked what he saw. He smiled again.
“Who the heck is it?” Heyes asked, grumpily, as he flung open the door. “Oh, hello.” The dark-haired man smiled and Blue Flower looked at his dimpled cheeks.
“This is Blue Flower,” Kid explained, annoyed at no longer having her all to himself. “Why don’t you go back to bed, I can handle this?”
“I bet you can,” his partner remarked, knowingly. “I’m Joshua Smith,” he informed the…he searched for a suitable adjective…Indian Princess.
“You help my father also?” she enquired.
“I sure did.”
“Meet you pleased.”
“Meet you pleased too,” Heyes said, with a smile.
Blue Flower liked what she saw. Heyes liked what he saw. Kid didn’t like what he saw.
“How is your father?” he asked. Blue Flower took her eyes off Heyes, who scowled at his partner, and turned them towards the blond man.
“He has head like bear. White men not always show such kindness, to him. Lawman, jail use, many times. You not the same. He very much…grat-ti-tude…Send me to you. Most valued treasure.”
“He said thank you?” Kid translated.
“Yes. I come here. Thank you…gift.”
The partners looked at each other. Did she mean what they thought she meant?
“He send you most valued treasure. I to show you grati-ti-tude.” She smiled at Kid. He swallowed. “Both of you.” She smiled at Heyes. Heyes swallowed.
“Ma’am, it’s not that we ain’t…aren’t…grateful…” Kid began.
“No. please,” Blue Flower interrupted. “Very much want to. You not take, my father offend.”
“I mean it’s not that we aren’t flattered…” Kid tried again.
“Come. We must do outside.” Blue Flower turned away.
“Outside?” Heyes asked.
“Yes. Both. Come,” she beckoned them, as she took a step along the corridor.
“Both?” Kid checked.
“I wait. Outside. You come. I show grat-ti-tude.”
They watched her disappear down the stairs.
“She don’t mean what I think she means does she Heyes?”
“I don’t know Kid.”
“She said both.”
“Maybe it’s their way? Some sort of custom?”
“Sheesh.” Kid thought about this. “We can’t, can we? I mean it’s not right.”
“No, we can’t.” Heyes looked at the top of the stairs, thinking.
“We don’t want to offend him though,” Kid observed.
“No we don’t.
“What do we do?”
“We’d better get dressed and go after her.”
Moments later, dressed and still curious, they found Blue Flower waiting on the boardwalk outside the hotel. She smiled when she saw them and both men were reminded just how beautiful she was. Both sighed.
“This way, come.” She beckoned them and set off along the boardwalk. Kid and Heyes followed. Blue Flower was amazingly light on her feet, hardly raising dust as she stepped into the street. They followed her as she headed towards the river. “Follow me please, very much enjoy do this,” she beckoned, as she disappeared into the undergrowth.
Kid put a restraining hand on his partner’s arm.
“Heyes we’re not right..?”
“We’re not,” Heyes assured him.
“Then why are we following her?”
“Because she asked us to.” Heyes pushed his way through the bushes.
“Oh boy.” Kid followed his partner.
“Here,” Blue Flower cried, as they came out into the river bank.
“Here?” Kid looked at the ground. It looked a little…rocky.
“Yes, here,” she pointed to the river and everything fell into place. How stupid could he have been? Heyes smiled, knowingly at his friend, as Blue Flower, stepped lightly down the bank towards the canoe. “Valued treasure.” Blue Flower stood proudly beside the canoe.
“The canoe. It’s the canoe,” Kid stated with relief.
“Of course it’s the canoe, Kid. What did you think she meant?” Heyes asked with a smile.
“The same thing you did!” Kid hissed, in a loud whisper.
“Your father wants us to have the canoe?” Heyes asked, as he joined Blue Flower on the bank.
“Yes. He much grati-ti-tude. Give you both.”
“What do we do?” Kid wanted to know.
“Well it would be rude to refuse,” Heyes mused.
“You not like?” Blue Flower looked disappointed.
“Oh we love it!” Kid gushed.
“You think I mean something else?” she asked.
“No!” they chorused.
“Thank you.” Blue Flower smiled at each man in turn. “Raging Waters he very happy now. You take please.” With that Blue Flower scurried off along the river bank, leaving two embarrassed, ex-outlaws standing beside the canoe. They turned to look at the vessel.
“What the heck do we do with it now?” Kid wondered.
That afternoon, Kid and Heyes finally rode out of the small town of Rivermills. They paid for their horses and saddles with the money Heyes won the previous evening at poker and from the sale of the canoe to the blacksmith. Heyes assured Kid that they would be far enough away from the town by the time Raging Waters realised what they had done. Besides he had given it to them so it was theirs to do with as they pleased and he would know they couldn’t take it with them. The blacksmith was delighted with the canoe, being the father of two small adventurous boys. The partners had decided, by their mutual silence on the subject, not to mention again the misunderstanding about Blue Flower. Although, Kid knew Heyes would bring the matter up again and would undoubtedly claim to have known that she meant the canoe all along.
“What are we gonna do now?” Kid wondered, as they reached the edge of town.
“Well I think it’s about time we paid Lom another visit don’t you?” Heyes suggested. Kid nodded his agreement. “Unless you want to go see if Blue Flower is still filled with gratitude?” Heyes smirked.
“I knew it! I knew you couldn’t keep quiet about that!”
“You should have seen your face, Kid.”
“My face? What about you? You thought she meant…well…you know!”
“The canoe, of course,” Heyes agreed. “What did you think she meant?” he asked innocently.
“The same thing you did!” his partner replied, loudly, as Heyes rode on ahead.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Kid. Why she was just a sweet innocent girl. What are you suggesting?” he called over his shoulder.
“I ain’t suggesting nothin’!” Kid yelled, spurring his horse to catch up to his partner. The dark-haired man laughed, urging his own horse on. “I saw your face when she said both!”
“Kid Curry and Princess Blue Flower,” Heyes teased.
“You thought it too!”
“Nope. Not for a second.”
“Well that’s not what it sounded like.”
“You know Kid, I bet Lom will love this story,” Heyes mused.
“Heyes, don’t you dare! Don’t you tell him.” Kid’s friend gave an innocent smile. “Heyes! Damn it if you do I’ll flatten’ ya!” The ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang rode off.