The Decision


The Decision

By Maz McCoy

The town of Hawksville was typical of many Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had stayed in. The one main street, bustled with a little more activity than most towns. There was a general store, saloon, hotel, livery stable and the inevitable sheriff’s office. They gave the name above the jail a sideways glance as they rode into town. Kid looked at his partner and Heyes shook his head. Neither man knew Sheriff Stoppard and they allowed themselves to relax, just a little. They tied their horses to the hitching rail in front of the Hawksville Hotel and, climbed wearily from their saddles. As they untied their saddlebags, Kid’s eyes scanned the street, watching for anyone showing signs of recognising the strangers in town. No one seemed unduly interested in their arrival and he followed his partner into the hotel.

Hannibal Heyes hit the bell that sat on the reception desk and, a few moments later, a large man, with slicked back black hair and a bushy moustache, appeared from the kitchen. He gave the two young cowboys a long look, taking in their dusty clothes, battered saddle bags and the tied down guns hanging on their hips.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” he asked, not sure that he wanted to.

“We’d like a room please,” the dark-haired man told him. “At the front of the hotel if possible.” J.G.Edwards, the hotel manager, studied the register on the desk.

“Hmmm. Not sure if I have any that would suit you,” he stated.

“One with a bed will be fine,” Kid said. Mr. Edwards met the blond man’s blue-eyed gaze and, detecting the element of danger within, quickly looked back at the book.

“Oh, here we are,” he said a little too cheerfully. “Room seven. It has two beds. Top of the stairs. Last room on the left.” He reached for the key. “It faces the street too,” he added hoping for Heyes’ approval.

Kid stared at him as he took the key and then turned towards the stairs.

“Will you stop looking at people like that,” Heyes said as they reached the first floor.

“Like what?” Kid asked, innocently, as they walked along the short corridor.

“Like you’re about to challenge them to a gunfight,” his friend told him, keeping his voice low. “I think you frightened the hotel manager.” Kid turned the key in the lock.

“Got us a room didn’t it?” he observed.

“Yes, and it probably made him suspicious too.”

“Why would it make him suspicious?” Kid asked as the entered the room. It was clean and airy.

“Because now he’ll be wary of you and that means he’ll be watchin’ you.”

Kid looked at his partner as he put his hat on the nearest bedpost.

“You worry too much Heyes,” he told him and walked to the window. Pulling back the curtain slightly, Kid examined the view up and down the main street. They were even in direct sight of the sheriff’s office. Kid gave a nod of satisfaction. Heyes watched his partner doing what he always did, watching their backs. Now who was the one worrying? He smiled but kept his thoughts to himself.

Kid flopped down on the bed nearest the window and sighed.

“Oh, this feels good,” he stated as he closed his eyes. “When did we last sleep on a mattress?”

“It was weeks ago Kid,” Heyes told him as he unbuckled his saddlebags. “Long, dusty weeks.” He wondered if the manager could be persuaded to send up a bath, but he wasn’t sure if he would be awake when it arrived. Maybe tomorrow. They had just spent three weeks driving cattle, not far from the Mexican border. Although the money had been better than average, it had been hard dusty work; long hours in the saddle and only the hard ground to sleep on. Both men would appreciate a night’s sleep in a bed.

“Do you want to get something to eat?” It was a silly question for his friend most times, but when Hannibal Heyes turned to face Kid Curry, he found the young gunslinger fast asleep. Heyes smiled. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said quietly.

***

Kid Curry was chewing on a mouthful of food when he spotted the pretty, young, brown-haired woman. She was in her early twenties and wore her hair tied back with a single blue ribbon. The ribbon matched the colour of the dress she wore, which hugged her delicate figure. She was with an older woman and, from the similarity of their features, Kid assumed this was her mother. The two ladies were just leaving the dining room when the younger caught the blond stranger’s eye. She smiled and turned her head shyly away. Kid stood up as they passed, nodding a good day to them both. Having had his back to the ladies, Hannibal Heyes had failed to see the women pass. He shook his head as Kid returned to his seat, noting the young woman cast a longing look back over her shoulder at his partner, and watching Kid giving her a sweet smile. Heyes shot out his foot, kicking his partner’s leg under the table. Startled, Kid glared at Heyes and shot him an enquiring look. Heyes gave him an innocent smile.

“Do you ever not look twice at a pretty girl?” the dark-haired man asked as he took a drink of coffee.

“You’ve known me long enough to answer that yourself,” his partner told him with a mischievous smile as he finished his breakfast.

“Yeah, and I don’t think you can help yourself, Kid.”

“Nothing wrong with appreciating the look of a pretty woman, Heyes.” Kid told him.

“Nothing,” Heyes agreed. “Except when you do it we usually end up in trouble.”

“You’re not still thinkin’ about Valentine are you? I’ve been real good about not rushing to the aid of every woman; just like I promised.”

“I know, don’t think I haven’t noticed,” his partner told him appreciatively.

Kid took a sip of coffee and sat back, satisfied.

“So what’s eatin’ you?” he asked, recognising something was on his partner’s mind.

“Nothing a good poker game wouldn’t cure,” Heyes muttered.

“Ah,” Kid said knowingly.

In their three weeks on the cattle drive, they had not had one really good game of poker. The men they had worked with had been some of the worst players either of them had known and the lack of a challenge had driven Heyes crazy. In the end, he had almost stopped playing for fear he would win all of the men’s money, before the end of the drive. That was not something he would have felt good about. Remembering this, Kid gave his friend a smile.

“Then why don’t we go and see if we can find you one?” he said pushing back his chair.

There was no better place to find out about the town, than in the saloon and the one in Hawksville was no exception. With a renewed spring in his step Hannibal Heyes walked with his partner across the street, eager to see if there was a poker game going on. Kid just wanted to feel a beer sliding down his throat.

As they entered the saloon a man burst through the batwing doors, pushing Heyes to one side. Heyes stared at the man and Kid thought he was seeing things. The man was dressed almost identically to Heyes. He wore a dark blue shirt, tan pants tucked into his boots and a black hat sat on his head. He was a little older than Heyes and had a couple of day’s worth of stubble on his chin. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stared at the man who, even at that time of the morning, was clearly the worse for drink. He staggered off along the boardwalk.

“Why don’t we see guys like him when there’s a posse chasing us?” Heyes asked.

“Sure would help some,” Kid agreed. “I wonder if he’s got a blond friend.” Then placing a hand on his partner’s shoulder he followed him into the saloon.

The bar tender gave a double take, when he saw Heyes, but greeted them cheerfully, as he strode along the bar towards them.

“Mornin’ fellas. What’ll it be?” he asked. He wore a striped shirt with a black bow tie and had a white apron tied about his waist.

“Two beers,” Kid said as he leaned on the bar. Heyes looked around at the tables. Even at this time of the day there was a poker game in progress. Close to a mining camp, Hawksville was the place the miners chose to relax. Five players were already at the table but there was room for two more. Kid saw his partner’s eyes light up as the players threw in their cards at the end of another game. With their beers in their hands they walked casually towards the table.

“Howdy fellas,” Heyes said amiably. “Mind if we join you?”

“Other folks’ money’s always welcome,” a small thin faced man said, beckoning them to sit down.

“Yeah, you just can’t seem to win any of it Harvey,” a large red faced man replied.

The partner’s exchanged a look and took a seat at opposite sides of the table. The cards were dealt and the game began. Heyes gave a sigh of contentment and reached for his cards.

The other men at the table included Harvey Waterman, Bill Peterson and Marcus Wilson all miners, Wendell Potter, who worked for the mining company at their headquarters and a tall, slim man with dark hooded eyes, who did not share his name with his fellow players. He wore a wide brimmed hat that shaded his thin face. He spoke only to call or raise and did not join in any of the players conversations.

After several hands Kid placed his cards on the table.

“Deal me out of the next one fellas,” he said. “I’m gonna get a drink.” Rising from his chair he headed towards the bar. Catching the bar tender’s eye, Kid ordered two beers. As Heyes came along side him, he pushed one of the beers along the bar towards him.

“Have you figured out what he’s doin’ yet?” Kid asked without looking at his partner.

“Nope,” his dark-haired friend told him, as he stared into his beer. “He’s doin’ somethin’. I just don’t know what it is.” He put the beer glass to his lips and took a long drink.

“Of course, there’s always the possibility that he just a better poker player than you are,” Kid said and a mouthful of beer shot across the bar as Heyes began to choke. Kid smiled as he slapped his friend on the back.

“Went the wrong way,” Kid told the bar tender when he shot a look in their direction. Heyes gave his partner a look of his own and continued to cough and gasp for breath. Kid gave him a smile and waited until he had recovered.

“No, Kid,” Heyes said firmly. “He’s doin’ something. I just need more time to work out what it is.”

“Well don’t take too long about it Heyes, because he’s winning all of our money.”

“Mind if I join you fellas?” a voice beside Kid asked. Both men turned to see one of the men they had been playing poker with. It was Wendell Potter, the man who worked at the mine. He was in his fifties with thinning grey hair and a stout frame. He leaned an elbow on the bar.

“I’ve been watching you boys,” he told them, putting the two ex-outlaws instantly on their guard. “You play an honest game of poker.”

“Thank you,” Heyes said, giving the man a slight smile.

“Can you use those?” he asked pointing to their tied down guns.

“When we have to,” Kid replied, wondering what this man wanted.

“I’m looking for a couple of fellas to help me out on a job,” Wendell told them “Are you boys looking for work?”

“Depends on what’s being offered,” Heyes replied.

“It’s a escort job.”

“Escorting who or what?” the dark-haired man asked. Wendell indicated a table near the wall and picking up their beers they followed him. When they were all seated Wendell continued his story, keeping his voice low.

“I’m heading out to the mines,” he told them.

“That doesn’t sound too dangerous,” Heyes observed.

“It’s not, really.”

“Then why’d you need a couple of escorts?” Kid asked.

“To frighten off potential attackers.” He could see he had their interest. “There are a couple of youngsters that like to take pots shots at me when I ride up through the canyon. One time I think they might just hit me and I’d prefer it if that didn’t happen.”

“Now that does sound like dangerous work,” Heyes told him. “Couldn’t one of the miners help you out?”

“They’re not riding back yet. I just need a couple of fellas to ride with me and scare them off,” Wendell told them, watching their faces to see if they would help.

“Maybe they’ll take pot shots at us too,” Kid said.

“Not if one of you rides ahead of me.” Kid and Heyes exchanged a look and an unspoken conversation.

“You just want us to ride with you and scare…what two boys?” Wendell nodded. “Scare away two boys?” Heyes wanted to confirm exactly what the job entailed.

“That’s right. The boys can’t be much more than fifteen years of age. Darn nuisance that’s all. Just don’t want them to finally hit me,” Wendell assured him.

“And you don’t have anything to suggest there might be someone else after you?” Kid asked suspiciously.

“No, not at all,” Wendell assured them.

“So what’s the pay?” Heyes asked.

“Well it’ll be four days work so how does $10 sound?” He looked at them hopefully.

“Apiece?” Kid asked him.

“Oh sure.”

“Sounds pretty low to me,” Heyes told him.

“For four days work?” Wendell asked surprised by his response. “Why you might not earn $20 a month on a cattle drive.”

“But you’d get all your food. Besides yours are four dangerous days, with the possibility of being shot at,” Heyes reminded him as he met Kid’s glance. Wendell considered this. “Or we could win it here this afternoon in a poker game.”

“Not with our slick friend playin’ you won’t,” Wendell told him and Heyes resisted the urge to challenge him on that. Wendell Potter thought for a moment.

“How’s $20 apiece sound?” Heyes looked at Kid who raised his eyebrows and gave an almost imperceptible nod. It was a lot for a few days work and they had nothing else lined up. Hannibal Heyes held out his hand to Wendell.

“You’ve just hired yourself two escorts Mr. Potter,” Heyes told him and Potter shook each man’s hand.

“That’s great. We start out this afternoon.”

“This afternoon?” Heyes asked looking a little disappointed.

“Yes. Is there a problem?” Wendell asked.

“No, no that’s fine,” Heyes replied but Kid knew something was bothering his friend. “May I speak to my partner alone for a minute?” Heyes asked and Kid grew even more concerned. Heyes stood up and Kid followed him back to the bar. He gave Heyes a worried look.

“What is it?” Kid asked.

“The poker game,” Heyes told him honestly.

“What about it?” Kid asked although he already had a suspicion he knew what the answer was going to be.

“I can beat this guy.”

“I’m sure you can but we got ourselves a job now,” Kid pointed out.

“What I mean is, I want to beat this guy,” Heyes told him looking his partner in the eye.

“Ah,” Kid said as it all fell into place.

“Why don’t you ride on ahead with Wendell? I’ll play just a few more games, with our slick friend, and then catch up with you later. I’ll be there long before you have to start out for the canyon.”

“He’s really gottin’ to you hasn’t he? You just can’t stand the fact that he’s beaten you twice now.” Kid stated, suppressing a smile.

“It’s a matter of pride Kid. There is also the possibility that I could win us a sizeable amount of money. More than Wendell’s paying too. So what do you say? Do I catch up with you later?” Heyes watched his partner’s face, waiting for an answer.

“Well it’s your decision,” Kid told him.

“I know Kid, but do I have your okay?”

“You’d better be there Heyes, or Wendell and I will be sitting ducks,” Kid told him.

“It’s only a couple of kids, Kid,” Heyes smiled at the double use of the word. “I’m sure you could handle them on your own, but I’ll be there.” He saw the doubt in Kid’s eyes.

“Yeah , well somethin’ tells me there’s more to this than Wendell’s lettin’ on.”

“Kid, I’ll be there. Have I ever let you down?” Kid did not answer him and Heyes stared opened mouthed at him. “Well have I?” he asked.

“I’m thinkin’ about it,” Kid told him.

***

Later that afternoon, Kid leaned down from the saddle and shook his partner’s hand.

“Be careful how you handle that fella, Joshua,” he said. “Don’t do anything to make him call you out, coz I won’t be there to watch your back.”

Heyes met his partner’s blue eyes and smiled.

“I’ll be my usual silver-tongued self,” he assured Kid.

“That’s what worries me,” Kid told him with a grin.

As Hannibal Heyes watched his partner, ride out with Wendell Potter, something nagged at him. It was partly guilt at having sent his partner on alone, while he stayed to satisfy his pride in a poker game but there was also a feeling of disquiet. Kid’s words played over in his mind. The feeling that there was more to this than Wendell was letting on. If it was just a couple of kids he was sure Kid Curry, the fastest gun in the west, could handle it. If not…but Heyes would be there. He had promised Kid that. When his partner disappeared from view, Heyes turned, pushed open the doors and walked back into the saloon.

After two more games of poker, Heyes was convinced he knew what the slick gambler was doing. He knew how he was cheating and he just needed to test him out. Reluctantly, Heyes admired the man’s skill. The cards were dealt and Hannibal Heyes looked at his hand. It was time to make his move.

He knew something was wrong when the room fell silent and the poker players opposite him focussed their attention on someone or something behind him.

“Mr. Smith?” a voice asked and Heyes turned to come face to face with a man wearing a sheriff’s badge.

“Sheriff,” Heyes said pleasantly.

“You need to come with me, Mr. Smith.”

“What for Sheriff?” Heyes asked his mind racing as to the possibilities. Was it something to do with Kid? At least he hadn’t called him Heyes, so he clearly didn’t know who he really was.

“I’m arresting you, for theft and assault,” the sheriff told him bluntly. All eyes were on the sheriff and the dark-haired young cowboy at the poker table.

“What?” Heyes could not believe what he was hearing. The sheriff put his hand on Heyes’ shoulder and pointed his gun in his face.

“I’ll take your gun son.”

“Just what do you think I’ve stolen?” Heyes asked as he raised his hands. The sheriff removed Heyes’ gun from his holster and tucked it into his belt.

“Laundry,” Sheriff Stoppard stated, clearly amazed by what some folks would steal. He indicated with a wave of his gun for Heyes to get up. “On your feet son.”

“Laundry? You can’t be serious?” Heyes asked dumbfounded, as he pushed back his chair and stood up. Several men at the table sniggered.

“When I’m doing my job, son, I’m deadly serious,” the sheriff told him. His gun did not waiver and Heyes knew, from the tone of his voice, that this man was no fool.

“It was hanging on Mrs. Sommers’ washing line; ladies underwear, to be precise.” People in the room dissolved into laughter and, even though he was innocent, Heyes looked a little embarrassed. “You stole her clothes and pushed her to the ground; that’s common assault in my book.”

“Sheriff you’ve got this all wrong,” Heyes told him but Stoppard caught hold of his arm and directed him towards the door.

“Let’s go,” he stated.

“Sheriff, I’ve been here all afternoon playing poker. Ask those men,” Heyes told him as the sheriff led him by the arm towards the batwing doors. The lawman turned to address the men at the poker table.

“Is that right men? Has this fella been here all afternoon?” Heyes watched their faces hopefully.

“He left for a while about an hour ago,” the slick gambler said. Heyes closed his eyes. Oh yes, now he decides to talk! Heyes thought.

“I went to the outhouse,” Heyes protested.

“It still means you left the game and you wasn’t here. That’s good enough for me,” the sheriff told him.

“But sheriff I didn’t…”Heyes tried to explain as he was pulled out of the saloon.

“Tell it to the judge,” Sheriff Stoppard advised as they walked across the street. “He’ll be here Tuesday.”

“Tuesday!” Heyes was horrified. He could not stay in jail for several days. Kid was waiting for him to catch them up. They approached the sheriff’s office.

“Sheriff, you have to listen to me,” Heyes pleaded.

“No son I don’t,” Stoppard told him bluntly. They had reached the jail by now and he opened the door to his office. “Inside, now.”

“But there really has been a mistake,” Heyes tried to explain.

“No mistake son. Mrs. Sommers gave me a good description of the man she saw running off with her under…well with her washing. Dark hair, dark blue shirt, tan pants tucked into his boots. That’s you boy, you gotta admit it.” Yes Heyes thought that was him, but it was also another man, one they had seen earlier that day coming out of the saloon. It was unfortunate that he had no idea who that man was.

Once in the sheriff’s office, Heyes found himself going through an all too familiar routine. He removed his gun belt. He walked to the cell. The sheriff opened the cell door and Heyes entered the cell. The sheriff closed and locked the door. Heyes caught hold of the bars and rested his head on the metal, letting out a sigh.

“Sheriff, can I send a telegram to my partner? He was riding with Wendell Potter to the mine headquarters and he’ll be worried if I don’t turn up?” Heyes asked as the sheriff put his hand on the door handle.

“I’ll think about it,” the grey-haired lawman told him as he left. When the door closed, Heyes was alone in the jail. Someone thought Hannibal Heyes had stolen ladies underwear from a washing line. Kid was relying on him to catch up and he wasn’t going to be there. Could it get any worse?

***

Kid Curry and Wendell Potter rode slowly towards the mining company headquarters. It sat at the base of the mountains and served three different small mining operations. It was a full day’s ride from Hawksville and as darkness fell Kid and Wendell set up camp for the night. Kid scanned the horizon hopefully, looking for some sign of his partner.

“No sign of your friend yet?” Wendell asked as he put a pot of coffee on the fire.

“Not yet,” Kid told him.

“I’d say he’s let you down,” Wendell told Kid.

“He won’t,” Kid assured him. “Somethin’ must have delayed him that’s all.”

“Well he’ll get a day’s less pay and I’ll tell him that if he ever turns up,” Potter complained.

Kid just looked at the horizon and tried to ignore the nagging feeling in his head telling him that something was wrong. Heyes could have lost himself in the poker game; he could be on the verge of a big win and not want to leave, believing his partner would understand. Or the gambler could have called him out and he could be lying wounded or … and Kid hated to think this…he could be dead. That was a lot of ‘could be’s’. Kid just knew he felt uneasy. They had been apart on numerous occasions but something felt different this time.

“You want some?” Wendell asked holding out a plate of food. Kid nodded and pulled from his thoughts he headed back to the fire and some supper.

***

The next morning Hannibal Heyes paced back and forth in the small cell like a caged mountain lion. With each step his anger grew.

“Will you sit down!” Deputy Granger snapped and Heyes stopped. The deputy was tall, in his early twenties with red hair.

“I told you I have a wife and baby boy at home. They are going to be worried sick when I don’t turn up. My wife is…”

“…the daughter of the mayor,” Deputy Granger finished for him. “I know you’ve told me several times.” He looked at Heyes and was suddenly unnerved by the dangerous look in the dark-haired man’s eyes. “Just give it a rest for a while. You’ve been pacing ever since first light. So stop it, okay?” the deputy added with less force.

“Will you please get Mrs. Sommers here to see if she can identify me?” Heyes asked although there was an edge in his voice that made it more of a command than a request. “I’ve told you, I didn’t steal any laundry. I did not push anyone to the ground. I told you there is another man in town, dressed like I am. You should be out looking for him.”

“You’re in no position to tell me what to do, fella,” Deputy Granger said. He walked towards the bars but then seeing the look in Heyes’ eyes thought better of it. “You just sit down and wait like the sheriff told you to.”

“Will you at least let me send a telegram?” Heyes asked.

“Later,” the deputy told him.

“That’s what you said yesterday,” Heyes replied.

“I gotta get this report, about you, finished first,” Granger stated. He looked down at the paper he had been writing on whilst Heyes was pacing. Picking up a pencil he began to write.

“How do you spell petticoat?” he asked. Heyes sighed.

“P-E-T-T-I-C-O-A-T,” Heyes said.

“Thanks.” There was more scribbling on the paper, then Granger paused and looked up at Heyes. “How do you spell under-drawers?”

“Oh, c’mon. Do I really look like a man who would steal a lady’s petticoat and drawers?” Heyes asked as his hands tightening their grip on the bars of his cell. If he had the strength he would have ripped them apart by now.

“The sheriff always told me not to judge a person by their looks. You never can tell what’s in a man’s mind.” Although from the look Joshua Smith was giving him at that moment, Granger had a pretty good idea what this, particular man, was thinking.

Just then the door opened and a man carried in a tray with a plate on it. The plate had a cover over it.

“Hi Deputy,” the young man said. “I was told to bring this for the prisoner. It’s for breakfast.” The deputy looked at the contents of the tray and then carried it to the cell.

“Here you go,” he said and slid it under the cell door to Heyes. The dark-haired man reluctantly picked it up, remembering Kid’s words about never complaining about the food in the army nor in jail. Heyes removed the cover from the plate to discover, not warm food but some white material. Curiosity got the better of him and picking it up he opened out the material until he was holding up a pair of ladies drawers. At that moment he looked up, to see the young man and Deputy Granger smiling back at him. Seeing Heyes’ face they began to laugh.

“That’s very funny fellas,” Heyes said without humour as he threw the drawers back onto the plate with disdain. “You two should be on the stage.”

“What’s the matter Mr. Smith? Ain’t you got no sense of humour?” Granger asked him and once again the look Heyes gave him told the lawman all he needed to know.

***

They broke camp just after dawn. Kid saddled the horses as Wendell packed away his cooking utensils. They rode slowly. Kid yawned, rubbed his eyes and gave a glance backwards hoping to see Heyes riding towards them in the early morning light. His partner was nowhere to be seen. Wendell noticed the blond man’s hopeful glance back, but decided not to comment. He liked the young man and he knew his friend’s failure to turn up worried him.

When they arrived at the mining headquarters, Kid Curry waited patiently outside the wooden office building, whilst Wendell went in to collect the mail. As he leaned against the wall, Kid scanned the encampment with a professional eye. Two men were watering their horses at the long water trough. Another two loaded sacks into the back of a wagon already piled high with boxes. As they worked another smaller man scribbled furiously on a clipboard, presumably noting down whatever was loaded on board. No one seemed bothered by the arrival of Wendell Potter and the stranger. The mine headquarters consisted of no more than four buildings. The office, a large store house, another building, the use of which Kid could not tell and a stable and corral.

After a while, the office door opened and Wendell came out carrying some saddlebags. From the way he was carrying them, they appeared to be heavy.

“Everything alright?” Kid asked.

“Oh, sure,” Wendell replied, as he walked towards their horses. He threw the saddlebags across the back of his horse and tied them on.

Kid pulled himself into the saddle and adjusted his hat against the glare of the sun.

“Looks like you got a lot of mail,” Kid observed conversationally.

“Oh those miners’ wives never seem to stop writing,” Wendell told him cheerfully. They rode away and headed towards the mountains. Kid cast his eyes once more back the way they had come looking for a lone rider in a black hat, heading towards them at speed, but there was still no sign of Heyes. He knew his partner would have caught up by now if he had left when he said he would. He also knew that Heyes did not want to lose the poker game to the gambler. If the game had gone on longer than expected he would be delayed in leaving. But Heyes had been right; he had never let him down. Kid knew he wouldn’t do so now without good reason. A feeling of disquiet crept over Kid once more. He was torn between returning to Hawksville to see what had kept his partner and riding on with Wendell Potter to fulfil their agreement.

“Where are you Heyes?” Kid muttered to the distant horizon.

***

At that moment Hannibal Heyes was sitting on a bunk in the Hawksville jail. He had paced, he had cursed, and he had spun his story of a baby and wife, the daughter of the mayor. He normally saved her for Kid but in his current predicament he needed all the help he could get. She had failed to impress Sheriff Stoppard. Heyes had tried to cajole the deputy into fetching Mrs. Sommers for an impromptu identity parade, but all to no avail. His silver tongue seemed to have failed him and by now Kid would know he was not coming. What would his partner think? That a poker game was more important than honouring an agreement to his friend? Would he be mad or worried? Would he ride on or turn back? What if they reached the canyon and someone started shooting? What if Kid had been right and there was more to it than Wendell had told them. What if someone was hit? That was an awful lot of ‘what ifs’.

As if things could not get any worse, Deputy Granger had just informed him that several people in town were referring to the man in jail as The Petticoat Panther. It was too much for Hannibal Heyes. He got to his feet.

“Deputy,” he called to Granger through the bars and the deputy rolled his eyes knowing what was coming next. “You have to get Mrs. Sommers.”

“Oh, please Mr. Smith. Give it a rest!” the deputy pleaded with his prisoner. “We’ve told you, Mrs. Sommers twisted her ankle when you pushed her over.” Heyes gave the man a look.

“Alright,” Granger conceded. “When the Petticoat Panther allegedly, pushed her over.” He smiled at Heyes who did not smile back. “So she’s resting up and will come over just as soon as she can.”

Just then the outside door opened and two young boys put their heads around the door. Cautiously they entered the office. One boy stepped forward as the spokesman. He looked about eight years old, his friend was slightly younger.

“Deputy,” the small blond-haired boy said as he stood in front of Granger’s desk.

“What is it Michael?” the deputy asked.

“Can we see The Petticoat Panther?” Granger turned to Heyes and smiled. The dark-haired man rolled his eyes.

“I am not The Petticoat Panther!” he yelled, clearly scaring the two boys and regretting it the instant he saw the frightened look on their faces. “Boys, I’m sorry,” he said in a more gentle tone. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You see there’s been a mistake. I didn’t steal anything.” They looked at him through large eyes.

“You didn’t take Mrs. Sommers under-drawers?” the smallest boy asked, somewhat disappointed?

“No,” Heyes told him. “No I didn’t touch her under-drawers.”

“You didn’t push her on her behind?” the blond boy asked. He had blue eyes and reminded Heyes of a young Jed Curry. Heyes smiled and crouched down behind the bars so that he was level with their faces.

“No, boys, I didn’t push Mrs. Sommers over.”

“So why you still in jail?” the blond boy asked.

“You’ll have to ask Deputy Granger that,” Hannibal Heyes said and gave the deputy an over to you look.

“Er, boys I have a lot of work to do. I think you’d best run along now,” the young deputy told them and ushered the boys out of the jail. When he turned back from the door Heyes was looking at him and the Deputy could not think of anything to say.

***

Kid had made his decision. He would send Wendell on alone and return to find his friend.

”Hey Wendell,” he called, ready to make his announcement, and as fate would have it, at that very moment, a rattlesnake startled Wendell’s horse. The animal reared up and Wendell clung on as best he could. Eventually the horse calmed down. Kid gave him a smile, once he knew the man was alright, then he saw the panic in Wendell’s eyes as he realised the saddlebags had fallen to the ground. Kid pulled his horse to a halt and climbed down to pick them up. They sure were heavy. Too heavy for mail. In fact they had a familiar weight to them. Kid looked up to ask Wendell a question and found the man staring back at him, with something between guilt and fear in his eyes.

“I guess I didn’t tie them on too well,” Wendell said casually.

“Guess not,” Kid replied, but making no move to replace them. “These seem a little too heavy to be just mail,” Kid stated. Wendell said nothing, raising Kid’s suspicions.

“Anything you want to tell me?” Kid asked, looking up at the man on the horse.

“Like what?” Wendell asked, with as much innocence in his voice as he could muster.

“Like what’s really in these bags?”

“I told you it’s the mail.”

“Then you won’t mind if I have a look,” Kid said and he began to unbuckle them.

“No you can’t!” Wendell protested, jumping down from his horse. Kid stopped and met the man’s gaze.

“What am I going to find in here?” he asked, although he already had a good idea as to what the bags really contained. Wendell said nothing. “What am I going to find?” Kid asked firmly.

“Money,” Wendell said,quietly.

“Go on,” Kid prompted.

“It’s the payroll for the mine,” Potter told him sheepishly. Kid shook his head.

“You never said anything about carrying a payroll,” Kid stated, through gritted teeth, knowing the trouble this could bring them.

“Well I didn’t want you telling anyone, did I?”

“Telling who?” Kid asked, gesturing to their empty surroundings.

“In Hawksville.”

“You knew about this all along?” Kid asked, angrily and the man nodded. “You didn’t trust me enough to tell me but, I suppose, now you expect me to help you guard it?” Kid stated. “You never wanted escorts in the first place did you? You wanted payroll guards. You shoulda told us.”

Kid looked at Wendell in disbelief.

“Who knows what you’re carrying?” Kid asked.

“Only me and the company man back at the office. Everyone else thinks I’m just taking the mail.” He gave Kid a slight smile.

“You should have told me.” Kid shook his head and handed the saddlebags back to Wendell. The small man stood there holding the bags as if they weighed a ton.

“Do you still want the job?” Wendell looked at Kid who was trying to decide what to do. He wanted to return to find Heyes, but he did not want to abandon Wendell now that he was carrying the money. In truth, if anything happened to Wendell Potter and someone described the man with him, there was a real possibility that Thaddeus Jones would be blamed.

“Alright, Wendell,” he said climbing back onto his horse. “But no more lies okay?” Wendell nodded his agreement.

“You’ll still ride with me?”

“Yeah,” Kid told him. “I’ll ride with you. I’ll see you safely to the mine. But not for $20.”

“How does $30 sound?” Wendell asked.

“Not as good as $50 would.” Kid met Wendell’s stare.

“Okay. $50 and you escort me to the mine. I don’t think your friend is coming. So I’m only paying you.”

“That seems fair enough,” Kid told him having made his decision, although it was not the one he had intended to make.

***

Later that afternoon, an extremely frustrated Hannibal Heyes, was lying on the bunk in the jail cell when he heard the front door to the sheriff’s office open. Hearing someone enter, he opened his eyes with only the minimum of curiosity, having resigned himself to the fact that this mess was going to take a long time to sort out. He was also trying to come to terms with the fact that Joshua Smith was currently known as the Petticoat Panther. He was trying not to let this get to him and swore he would never tell Kid. Hannibal Heyes, the ex-leader of the Devil’s Hole Gang had been arrested for stealing ladies underwear. It was enough to give respectable outlaws a bad name.

However, seeing who Deputy Granger had brought into the office, Heyes was instantly on his feet. Standing next to the deputy, swaying unsteadily and clearly the worse for drink was the man he and Kid had seen coming out of the saloon, the previous day. The dark-haired man still wore the same clothes; a dark blue shirt, and tan pants tucked into his boots. He was still dressed identically to Heyes.

The man gave a sickly sweet smile, as he tried to focus on the man in the cell. He thought there might be a mirror in the room, because he could see himself standing just a few feet away behind bars.

Sheriff Stoppard got slowly to his feet and standing behind his desk looked from Heyes to the drunk man and back again. Heyes, brushed his hair back from his face and then, folding his arms across his chest, gave the sheriff a knowing smile, raised his eyebrows and waited to hear what the sheriff had to say.

“Granger, I think you’d best fetch Mrs. Sommers,” the sheriff said. “Put this gentleman in the cell first.” The man was led into the cell next to Heyes. He sank down onto the bunk and promptly fell asleep.

“Well Sheriff, do you believe me now?” Heyes asked. The lawman looked at the dark-haired young man behind the bars.

“I’ll see what Mrs. Sommers has to say first,” he informed the ex-outlaw. “He may look like you but it doesn’t mean he’s the Petticoat Panther.” The sheriff and the deputy laughed and Heyes looked skyward for his only chance of help.

***

Agnes Sommers was a large woman, with a loud voice and an ample bosom, which tended to enter a room some time before the rest of her. Her soft friendly face carried a worried expression, as she stood beside the two jail cells looking intently at the two incarcerated men. Agnes leaned on a cane to support her injured ankle. She stared at Heyes as if studying every line on his face and he was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable under such close scrutiny. Agnes turned her attention to the other man who Deputy Granger had dragged to his feet. Then she cast a quick glance back at Heyes.

“Sheriff, this is not the man who attacked me,” she said waving a hand in Heyes’ direction. She then pointed to the other man. “That’s him,” she stated definitely. “That’s the Petticoat Panther.”

Hannibal Heyes closed his eyes and savoured a moment of relief.

“I’m sorry Mr. Smith,” the sheriff said as he approached the cell door. “I hope you can see how anyone could have made the same mistake?” With the key poised in the lock, he waited for Heyes to answer.

“Oh sure sheriff,” Heyes said not wanting to upset the man in case he changed his mind about unlocking the door. “I’d have locked myself up in your position.” The key turned in the lock and Sheriff Stoppard pulled back the cell door. Heyes stepped out of the cell and suppressed a sigh of relief. He collected his gun belt from the deputy and made a show of checking the chamber was full.

“So am I free to go now?” he asked, as he buckled the belt around his waist.

“Oh, of course,” the sheriff told him. “Of course.” Heyes nodded determinedly.

***

“You see the payroll’s never taken up there on the same day, or by the same person.” Wendell explained to Kid, as they rode slowly into the canyon that led up to mine number three.

“Why doesn’t the mining company have guards of its own?” Kid asked as his eyes scanned the hills around them.

“It did have once, but they don’t exactly pay well. It’s a small operation and the sums carried are not huge. The men got bored hanging around waiting to ride to the mine and back.”

“So how many times have you carried the money?”

“Oh, about five times now,” Wendell told the blond man.

The payroll was delivered first to the company headquarters. Once there it was divided up and transported to the individual mines. Once the miners were paid they spent most of their money in the small mining company owned store at each mine, but some of it would be saved for the occasional trip into Hawksville.

“Are there really two boys out there?” Kid asked sceptically, gesturing to the canyon rim.

“Oh yes. The Anderson twins. Their father works at the mine. He drives the supply wagon. Those boys are probably up there now, hunting ground squirrels or jackrabbits or whatever it is they go after. And they’re probably getting me in their sights too.”

“Or me,” Kid said and then his eyes caught a movement somewhere off to the right. He pulled his horse to a halt as Wendell rode on. A small rock tumbled down the hillside. Sensing danger, Kid’s blue eyes scanned the rocks, as he pulled off his right glove and tucked it into his gun belt.

The explosion rocked the canyon. Kid saw Wendell’s horse fall and lay still. Wendell was thrown several feet away from the dead animal, where he lay not moving. Bullets whizzed about them and one came too close to Kid’s head for comfort. He pulled his horse back. There was an explosion behind him and his horse began to rear up. Kid struggled to control it, gripping the reins hard. The horse was clearly terrified. A third explosion knocked Kid’s horse to the ground, showering them both with debris as it brought down rocks and rubble above them. Kid was thrown from the saddle. He staggered to his feet, as his horse struggled to get back up. There was a fourth explosion and the animal let out a scream. Kid felt something hit his head hard. He was thrown backwards and landed on his back in the dirt. Reaching up, Kid Curry felt the warm blood on his temple and struggled to sit up but the pain in his head was too much for him. He heard voices shouting, footsteps coming closer but the world was a spinning blur. Lying back, he let unconsciousness take him.

***

Rough hands searched Kid’s body for money. They found the few coins he had left over from the poker game, tucked into the pocket of his leather vest. They searched inside his hat and then threw it to one side. His gun belt was unbuckled and pulled from around his waist. As the men searched him, Kid did not regain consciousness which no doubt saved his life. Ramone was renowned for not leaving witnesses to his crimes. If he suspected one of the men they had attacked was still alive, he would have shot him. Instead the gang’s leader, was busy opening the saddlebags he had just pulled from Wendell’s horse, allowing his men to search the bodies. Pleased with the money he had discovered, Ramone signalled for his men to depart. As the sound of their horses hooves faded into the distance, the canyon fell silent. All that remained were the still figures of two men and two horses.

***

Sometime later, Henry Anderson urged his team forward into the canyon, on his way down from the mine. He saw the horses first, lying in the dirt on the trail ahead and then noticed two unmoving figures. Climbing quickly from the wagon, he ran to Wendell’s side. Blood had congealed around an open wound in his chest and a gash across his forehead. The man was dead, of that Henry had no doubt. He moved on to the second man. The young blond man lay on his back. A line of dried blood ran down his face from a gash across his right temple. Henry placed his fingers along side the man’s neck and felt the reassuring thump of a pulse beneath his fingers. Placing a hand on the man’s chin, Henry gently turned his head. As he did so the man gave a slight moan.

“Easy lad,” Henry said. With the strength of a man who had spent many years working the mine, he pulled Kid to his feet and threw him over his shoulder. Henry carried Kid to the wagon and placed him in the back. “There’s a convent not far from here. I’ll take you there. See what the nuns can do for you,” Henry said, although he knew the blond man would not be aware of anything he said. He didn’t know if the man would survive the journey, but he had to do what he could for him. He placed Wendell’s lifeless body alongside the blond man and covered him with a blanket. At least the sisters of the convent would see the man had a decent burial. Climbing back onto the wagon, Henry urged the team on again.

In the back of the wagon, Kid was jostled about. Regaining consciousness, he looked through bleary eyes at the sky overhead. He felt the movement of the wagon, but had no idea where he was. All he could remember was something hitting him on the head and the sound of a horse screaming. Kid closed his eyes once more.

***

As dusk fell, Henry Anderson pulled on the bell chain of Saint Theresa’s convent. Moments later the large wooden door was opened by a young nun.

“Yes?” Sister Angelica asked and waited to see what the man wanted. Henry removed his hat.

“Sorry to bother you Sister,” he said, respectfully. “I’ve got an injured man in my wagon and I hoped you might help him. Got another fella too, but I’m afraid he’s dead.” Sister Angelica looked shocked at this news.

“I found them on the mine trail. Looks like there’d been a hold up or somethin’,” he told her and beckoned the young nun to the wagon. When she saw the men inside, Sister Angelica acted quickly. Returning into the building, she called for help. Two other nuns and two men came running. The men worked with the Sisters in the garden and carried out odd jobs around the convent and the school the nuns ran.

Wendell’s body was carried to the chapel. Henry pulled Kid’s limp body from the back of the wagon and threw him over his shoulder once again. Under the women’s instructions, he carried Kid along a corridor to a small room. Henry placed Kid on the bed as the Sisters bustled about him. Another young nun arrived, along with an older Sister. There was much discussion as to what they could do for the injured man. The young nun went to fetch a bowl of warm water and bandages. The older nun stepped forward and got her first look at the injured young cowboy. He looked so young, she thought.

***

At a steady pace it took a day to ride from Hawksville to the mine encampment and then the canyon that led to the mine. Hannibal Heyes intended to do it in half that time. He rode as fast as he could, pushing his horse beyond what he would normally expect of the animal. That gnawing feeling remained, telling him that Kid was in trouble, or maybe it was just guilt he felt. If he had not let his pride make his decisions for him he would not have stayed to try to beat the gambler. Ironically, having been arrested, he had neither beaten the man, nor had the satisfaction of revealing his methods.

When Heyes reached the mine headquarters, early that evening, he was fortunate to find the office still open. Tom Mullins was working late when Heyes strode purposefully into the office, batting his hat against his leg as he did so. A cloud of dust rose about him.

“Howdy,” Heyes said pleasantly to the man behind the desk. “I’m looking for a friend of mine. He rode in with Wendell Potter about a day ago.” The man said nothing as he sized up the dusty, dark-haired stranger standing before him. When he received no reply, Heyes grew impatient.

“Look, I know my friend and Wendell Potter were coming here, then heading for one of the mines. Have they been here?” Heyes asked. The man behind the desk looked at the stranger. If he was up to no good, he would find Wendell too late to get his hands on the payroll. If he was looking for his friend,he could think of no reason not to tell him.

“Yeah, they were here,” Tom Mullins told Heyes. “Left this morning. Going out to number three and they should be there by now.” Heyes asked him for directions and the man pointed to a map on the wall.

“I’ll show you,” he said coming out from behind the desk. “But it’ll be too dark to ride up there now. There are too many wrong ways you could turn. And you don’t want to be travelling through the canyon in the dark, not if Ramone and his boys are about.”

“Ramone?” Heyes asked not liking the suggestion of trouble.

“He leads a gang of outlaws. I’ve heard rumours they’ve been spotted around here. I wouldn’t put it past them to bushwhack someone travelling alone at night.”

Darkness was falling fast. Heyes knew he could not ride any further that day and have a hope of following Kid’s trail. Although, with the news of outlaws in the area, he was now even more anxious to find his friend. It was ironic that he should now be worried at the thought of outlaws, when he had been the leader of his own infamous band. But the Devil’s Hole Gang would never have attacked a lone traveller. Heyes was offered a bed in the bunkhouse, which turned out to be the building next to the stable. He gratefully accepted, but as he threw his saddlebags onto a bunk, he did not feel like sleeping and he lay, on the thin mattress, counting the minutes until it was light enough for him to ride out again.

***

As he drifted in and out of consciousness, Kid opened his eyes and saw shrouded figures moving about him. There were shapes and faces he could not bring into focus. He heard a woman’s voice, far away, and a robed figure floated nearby. Someone touched his head and, turning away, he moaned in pain. Kid tried to focus on the faces but without success.

“Heyes?” Kid said and the nuns stopped what they were doing and listened. “Heyes, where are you?” Kid mumbled, his eyes searching the room for his friend. Soothing voices calmed him and Kid closed his eyes once more.

Sister Mary-Elizabeth had trained as a nurse before she heard the Lord calling her to join the convent. She was given the task of looking after the young man. Now she cleaned the dried blood from Kid’s head wound and gently applied a bandage. Sister Mary-Elizabeth was assisted by Sister Clara, a small thin nun in her mid-sixties.

“Rest easy young man,” the elderly nun said, as she sat by the blond man’s side. “You’re safe now. I wonder if anyone is looking for you? Well you’re in the Lord’s hands and he will look after you.”

***

The walls of the canyon began to close around him, the next morning, as Hannibal Heyes rode his horse cautiously along the trail to mine number three. A sudden movement overhead caught the dark-haired man’s attention and he looked up to see buzzards circling in the sky. This was not a good sign. He hoped the birds had spotted nothing more than a dead rabbit. Two more joined them, carving larger circles in the air with their widespread wings. Heyes felt a tightness in his chest. A feeling of foreboding overtook him. He turned the bend and pulled his horse sharply to a halt. Two horses lay dead in front of him. Hannibal Heyes heard nothing but his heart beating as a lump formed in his throat. Heyes kicked his horse forward and two buzzards flew up from the ground. He knew the horse nearest to him. He recognised the saddle and the brand on its hindquarters matched that on his own horse. It was Kid’s horse lying dead before him. Heyes felt sick. The other horse lying further away was the one Wendell had ridden out of Hawksville.

Hannibal Heyes slipped from his saddle. He walked slowly forward. There on the ground was a familiar brown hat and next to it a tan leather glove. A right hand glove. The glove Kid would remove before he drew his gun. Heyes bent down and picked up Kid’s hat, gently brushing dust from its brim. Then he picked up the glove, held it tight for a moment then tucked it into his gun belt. There was a dark red stain in the dirt. Blood. Heyes suspected it was Kid’s blood. Heyes had to remind himself to breathe.

Heyes did not want to know what lay on the other side of Kid’s horse. He did not want to find his partner’s body lying in the dirt but he had to look. Feeling the bile rising in his throat, Heyes walked cautiously around the dead animal, noting the bullet and blast wounds in its side. He took another step expecting to see Kid sprawled on the ground. When he realised there was no one there, Heyes thought he would be sick from sheer relief.

Heyes walked towards Wendell’s horse but once more there was no sign of its rider. There was another dark stain on the ground. From the wounds and the rock debris around the dead animals Heyes guessed that they had been killed by a barrage of bullets and the blasts from dynamite. There was nowhere for anyone to hide. Once the firing started the riders would have been sitting ducks; out in the open and vulnerable to the attack. So where were they? If they were dead why move the bodies? If they were alive, had they been taken hostage?

“Thaddeus! Kid!” Heyes called, risking being heard by the attackers, whilst hoping for an answer from his friend. The only answer he got was his own voice echoing off the canyon walls.

Hannibal Heyes looked at the ground. The once ‘champeen tracker of all southern Utah’ was confronted by numerous footprints and hoof-prints. Through the middle of them all ran a set of tracks made by wagon wheels. The wheel ruts cut the mark of a horseshoe in two. The wheel marks had clearly been made after the horse had passed by. There were also the marks of two larger horses, probably those pulling the wagon. Someone had driven a wagon through here after the attack. Heyes needed to find that wagon.

Hannibal Heyes looked at his partner’s horse and could only hope Kid was alive. He hooked the cord of Kid’s hat over his saddle horn and pulled himself back into the saddle. Heyes headed back the way he had just ridden, following the wagon’s trail.

***

Heyes heard the wagon approaching long before he saw it. Dismounting, he pulled his horse into some scrub and waited. The wagon was driven by a
dark-haired man. The man pulled the wagon to a halt and reached beneath his seat. Finding what he wanted, he pulled out the rifle and pointed it at the bushes where Heyes was hiding.

“Whoever you are, come on out before I start shooting,” Henry Anderson called. He had spent the night in the guest lodge at the convent and was now heading back home, hoping as he did so, that his boys had not been up to any mischief again.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t,” Heyes said as he led his horse into the open, his other hand was raised to show he did not hold his gun.

“Why were you hiding?” the man asked Heyes.

“I wasn’t sure who you were,” Heyes told him. “And I’ve seen those horses up ahead.”

“I see,” Anderson replied.

“Do you know what happened back there?” Heyes asked him suspecting by the look of the wagon wheels that the man did.

“A couple of fellas got attacked,” Anderson replied.

“Any idea what happened to them?”

“Why does it matter to you?” Anderson asked, sensing Heyes had more than a passing interest in the men he had found.

“One of them is a friend of mine,” Heyes told him.

“A young blond fella?” Henry Anderson asked, suspecting as much and raising Heyes’ hopes that Kid was alive. The look of hope on Heyes’ face told Henry all he needed to know.

“Yes. That’s him.” Heyes met the man’s eyes, waiting.

“I know where he is,” Anderson told Heyes.

“Is he alive?” Heyes asked and the man on the wagon caught the fear in the young man’s voice.

“He was when I left him.” Heyes let out a long held breath. “Had a nasty head wound though.” Heyes took this in but said nothing.

“Where is he?”

“I took them both to Saint Theresa’s. It’s a convent.”

“Where’s the convent?” Heyes asked.

***

Hannibal Heyes pulled the bell chain at Saint Theresa’s convent and waited for what seemed an eternity before the large door opened. Sister Angelica peered out at the dark-haired cowboy. Heyes quickly removed his hat and smiled at the young woman in her black and white robes. His smile revealed two dimples in his cheeks and the young nun smiled back.

“Ma’am. Sister,” he began. “I believe a friend of mine is here. He’s about my height, blond hair. I’m told he’s been injured.”

“Please wait,” she said and the door closed. Heyes could do no more than do as she asked. He looked at the ground and at the door, wondering what was happening behind it. Eventually the door opened again.

“How can I help you?” a woman asked. Heyes turned to see a slender woman in a nun’s habit. She was in her sixties and wisps of grey hair showed beneath her wimple.

“I’m looking for my friend. A blond man, about my age. He’s hurt. I was told he was here,” Heyes explained.

“He is here,” the nun said.

“Is he..?” but Heyes could not finish the sentence. The words caught in his throat.

“He’s alive,” she told him sensing his anxiety. “Come in my son, I’ll take you to him.” Sister Clara led the way inside and along the white walled corridor.

***

Heyes footsteps echoed in the serene silence. He was anxious to reach his friend but Sister Clara moved at a pace set by a life within convent walls. Eventually, she stopped beside a large oak door. She gave the dark-haired young man an understanding smile and quietly opened the door, ushering him into the room. The room was lit by an oil lamp, which cast shadows across the walls. A young nun, he would later learn to be Sister Mary-Elizabeth, sat beside the single bed reading a breviary. She looked up when the young cowboy entered the room and gave him a reassuring smile. Marking her place with a cloth bookmark, she closed the breviary and stood up.

Heyes took two steps into the room, but was suddenly unable to move. Kid lay unconscious on the bed. His face was deathly pale. There was a slightly blood stained bandage around his head and the right side of his face was badly bruised. For a heart stopping moment he thought Kid was dead. Then he heard his friend’s breathing and saw the reassuring rise and fall of his chest beneath his Henley. Relieved, he took a step closer to the bed.

“Kid?” then he quickly corrected himself. “Thaddeus?” the dark-haired man whispered, as he slowly approached his friend. Heyes’ feet felt like lead. He touched his partner’s arm but Kid did not stir. Heyes sank down onto the chair beside the bed.

“We have sent for the doctor,” Sister Mary-Elizabeth told him. “He should be here anytime.”

“I’m sure the Lord will listen to your prayers,” Sister Clara said quietly, as she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“I’m not much of one for praying Sister,” Heyes told her as he sat beside his friend. She noted the glove clutched tight in his hand.

“Then it’s a good time to start,” she told him gently. Heyes returned her caring smile. Sister Mary–Elizabeth and Sister Clara left the room leaving Heyes alone with his friend.

***

Heyes did not know how long he had been sitting there. Too many times either he, or Kid, had sat at his partner’s bedside watching blood soak into a bandage, hoping a wound would heal without complications, and willing his friend to regain consciousness. How many more times would they have to do this before the Governor of Wyoming gave them their amnesty and they were free men? Free to choose a less dangerous life and less dangerous work. Hannibal Heyes did not have the answer to his own question.

He looked at the glove in his hand and then at the blood stained bandage around Kid’s head.

“Come on partner it’s time to wake up. You have to wake up Kid,” Heyes said in little more than a whisper. “There’s so much I have to say to you.” Kid remained sleeping and so Hannibal Heyes kept talking, hoping the sound of his voice would rouse his friend.

Heyes chatted to his unconscious partner for what seemed like hours. He talked about their childhood together, good and bad times with the Devil’s Hole Gang and what they would do once their amnesty came through. Sister Clara looked in on him several times, offering a comforting word, bringing him a drink and something to eat, although most of the food lay untouched on the plate, which sat on a nearby cabinet. In his hands Heyes still held Kid’s right glove, squeezing it tightly.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there Kid. I got delayed. Well actually I got arrested. You are never going to believe what for.” Heyes looked up at his friend. “I don’t think I’m gonna tell you because it’s a little too embarrassing. But that’s not the point. I’m just so sorry I didn’t get there when I said I would. I put the poker game before you and that was wrong. I let you down. I should have been there.”

“Yeah, you should,” Kid said suddenly in a weak voice, not opening his eyes. “Then I wouldn’t have to listen to you yakking on so much. Give it a rest will you Heyes, my head hurts.” Kid opened his eyes and saw the relief on his partner’s face.

“Hey,” Kid said weakly. Heyes brown eyes met two sleepy blue ones. Kid gave the faintest of smiles. A broad grin broke out on Heyes’ face revealing the two familiar dimples.

“Hey yourself, partner,” Heyes said. “How you feeling? You sure had me worried.”

“My head hurts,” Kid stated groggily and Heyes’ eyes lost some of their sparkle.

“Well, you took quite a whack from what I could see,” he told his friend.

“Wendell?” Kid asked, as the memory came back to him.

“He’s dead,” Heyes told him.

“I thought he might be. He was carrying the payroll,” Kid explained but his eyes were already growing heavy again. “They used dynamite.”

“That’s what I thought. I saw the horses.”

“Where are we?”

“The convent of Saint Theresa.”

“Nuns?” Kid asked remembering shrouded figures floating around him.

“Yeah, nuns,” Heyes replied smiling.

“How’d I get here?”

“A man called Henry Anderson found you. He brought you here in his wagon.” Kid clearly had no idea who he was talking about.

“Head sure does hurt,” Kid told him again. “I’m glad you finally got here. I was worried about you. I thought that guy had called you out.” Heyes smiled. It was typical of Kid to be worried about him. Kid’s eyes began to close as sleep overcame him once more.

“You rest easy Kid. I’ll be here,” Heyes assured him.

***

The doctor, from Hawksville, arrived later that day. He had been delayed. The delivery of Mrs. Wilson’s baby had been particularly difficult but, fortunately, mother and son were now doing well.

Doctor Neville Shipley was a thin man in his late forties, with a head of thick brown hair. On his arrival at the convent, he was ushered quickly, to his patient’s beside. He placed his battered black doctor’s bag on the cabinet next to the bed. Removing his glasses from his inside jacket pocket he put them on. As he stood beside his patient, he studied the injured man, over the rim of his glasses, noting the blood stained bandage and the bruises on his face.

“I think we’ll just remove this for now,” he said undoing the bandage so that he could examine the healing wound. He looked Kid Curry in the eye. His blond patient stared blearily back as the doctor held up three fingers.

“How many fingers can you see, Mr. Jones?” the doctor asked.

“All of them,” Kid replied weakly and Hannibal Heyes rolled his eyes. He was standing to one side, one hand resting on the wall as he leaned into it.

“I see you’ve kept your sense of humour,” the doctor stated with a smile. “Well that’s a good sign. So, how many precisely can you see?” he held up three fingers again.

“Three,” Kid told him. “Did I get it right?” he asked when the doctor did not say anything.

“You got it right,” Dr. Shipley assured him. “Now watch my finger. Keep your head still but follow it with your eyes.” He moved a finger back and forth in front of Kid’s face, watching intently as Kid’s blue eyes followed the movement.

“Hmmm,” the doctor said again, giving nothing away.

“What does that mean?” Kid asked.

“It means I’m making my diagnosis,” the doctor told him. “Do you feel dizzy at all?”

“A little.”

“Nauseous?”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm. Well that’s to be expected for someone caught in an explosion.” He carried out a few more tests and listened to Kid’s breathing with his stethoscope. He said very little, uttering only the occasional “Hmmm”, which clearly concerned Kid. The doctor closed his bag and looked at his patient.

“Your breathing seems fine, which is a good sign but it’ll take a while to get you back to normal.”

“Not sure he was ever that Doc,” Heyes quipped from the foot of the bed. Kid’s eyes narrowed at his partner. The doctor smiled.

“Yes, well, you still need to rest,” the doctor stated.

“Sounds good to me,” Kid told him. The doctor looked at the dark-haired young man who had greeted him with such a concerned look on his face. He looked back at Mr. Jones.

“You seem to be in good hands, Mr. Jones and I don’t think the Sisters will let you do anything until you’re ready. I think you’ll be fine. I’ll come back and see you again in a couple of days.” Having completed his examination of the young blond man, Dr. Shipley left him to rest. Hannibal Heyes walked the doctor to his horse and was given advice on warning signs to look for in Kid’s condition.

“If you are at all worried about him, send someone for me. I’m sure he’ll be fine but you never can tell with head wounds,” the doctor told him. “If you need me, I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

“Thanks Doc,” Heyes said and watched him ride off.

“So what does he really think?” Kid asked, when Heyes returned to the room.

“He thinks you’ll be fine,” his partner told him.

“You wouldn’t lie to me?” Kid asked, with just a hint of worry in his voice.

“Lie, to the fastest gun in the west?” Heyes asked, with mock horror.

“I’m not sure I’m that at the moment.”

“So d’you reckon I could take you?” Heyes asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“No Heyes, I’m not that slow,” Kid smiled, as his eyes began to close sleepily.

“Hmmm,” Heyes replied. He watched as Kid fell asleep, the smile still on his face. Only then did Hannibal Heyes let the worry he felt for his partner show.

***

The attack on Wendell Potter and the man escorting him to the mine was reported to Sheriff Stoppard in Hawksville. As soon as he could, the sheriff rode out to the convent, to interview the man who had survived; the injured Mr. Jones.

Sister Angelica led the sheriff along the corridor to the room Kid occupied. She opened the door and stood back allowing the lawman to enter. A dark-haired man, who had been sitting beside the bed, stood up and turned to face the sheriff.

“Mr. Smith!” Sheriff Stoppard said with surprise. “I didn’t expect to find you here.”

“Thaddeus is the friend I was telling you about. The one I needed to get to urgently.” The sheriff did not miss the edge in the dark-haired man’s voice, but he chose to ignore it.

“I’m sorry about the problem we had in town. I hope there are no hard feelings about you being dubbed The Petticoat Panther?” A cough from the bed drew their attention but Kid did not wake. Heyes watched his partner for a moment, but he seemed to be sleeping.

“Sheriff I…”

“It’s just being accused of stealing ladies underwear caused us some amusement as you no doubt gathered and…” the sheriff continued in his loud voice.

“Sheriff it’s…”

“I hope you don’t feel too bad about it now? I hope you understand?”

“Sheriff,” Heyes said in a whisper, hoping the man would lower his voice too. “I’d rather just forget about the whole thing if you don’t mind. Can we keep it just between ourselves?” The sheriff considered this.

“Oh, oh sure. Yes of course, whatever you want.”

“That’s definitely what I want,” Heyes told him.

“Well alright then. Look, I’ve come to ask your friend a few questions, about the attack. Do you think Mr. Jones could talk to me?” They looked at Kid who began to stir. Although he had been sitting up in bed, and staying awake for longer periods now, Kid still had a tendency to drift off to sleep mid-way through a conversation.

“Thaddeus? Thaddeus?” Heyes called gently and, slowly Kid opened his eyes and peered at Heyes. “Thaddeus? The sheriff’s here,” Heyes told him, warning his friend to be on his guard. He stood between the lawman and his partner, blocking Potter’s view of Kid’s face, as he took in the news. Kid looked at the man standing beside his partner. It was not long before he spotted the star pinned to the man’s shirt. Sheriff Stoppard moved closer.

“How are you Mr. Jones?” he asked.

“Not so bad,” Kid told him, as he eased himself, slowly, into a sitting position. The bandage around his head had been removed and the sheriff noted the gash across his forehead and the purple bruising on the right side of his face.

“I’m Sheriff Stoppard, from Hawksville. Do you feel up to answering some questions about the attack?”

“I guess,” Kid said weakly and this satisfied the sheriff. “I don’t remember much.”

“Why don’t you tell me what happened,” the sheriff prompted and Heyes saw Kid’s eyes narrow, as his partner tried to remember.

“We were riding to the mine. I didn’t know, when we left Hawksville, that he was going to get the payroll. We’d entered the canyon. There was an explosion up ahead and Wendell’s horse fell. Wendell was thrown from his horse. There were more explosions and someone fired shots at us, I think. My horse went down and then…” he waved a hand in the air to show that he remembered no more.

“Did you see anyone?”

“No.”

“Did you hear anyone? Any names called?” the sheriff asked hopefully.

“I’m sorry sheriff, I didn’t see anyone. I don’t even know how I got here, except for what Hey…”he caught himself and saw the horrified look on Heyes’ face. “Joshua told me.”

“Well, if you do remember anything, you let me know. I have a pretty good idea who it was but without any evidence…” he let the rest go unsaid and Heyes nodded in sympathy.

“If that’s all sheriff I’ll walk you out,” Heyes said, not wanting the lawman around for any longer than was necessary. He ushered the sheriff to the door.

***

“Are you hungry?” Heyes asked Kid, when he returned from seeing the sheriff on his way. Heyes suspected he knew the answer. “Sister Clara has made apple pie especially for you.”

“Apple pie?” Kid’s eyes opened wide.

“Yep,” Heyes said and noted Kid’s smile. It was good to see him looking so much better. “I’ll go get you some.” He was glad that Sheriff Stoppard was on his way back to Hawksville. Kid had almost let slip his partner’s name and with him still not thinking clearly, it was good to have the sheriff out of the way.

Heyes turned towards the door.

“Heyes, there’s just one thing,” Kid said, his tone serious, and his friend turned back to face him. Kid Curry narrowed his eyes, thinking. “It’s somethin’ that’s been worryin’ me.”

“What is it Kid?” Heyes asked with concern.

“Who’s The Petticoat Panther?” Kid asked innocently, enjoying the shocked look on Heyes’ face. Kid’s eyes opened wide as he smiled.

“How much did you hear?” Heyes asked cautiously, fearing the worst.

“Every word,” Kid told him with a grin.

“You were lyin’ there awake listenin’ and you didn’t say anything!” Heyes cried angrily.

“Well it was gettin’ interesting.”

Heyes rolled his eyes and turned away.

“What exactly did you do after I left, Heyes?” Kid asked curiously. “I thought you were playin’’ poker?”

“I was!” Heyes exclaimed, but a feeling of inescapable humiliation overcame him and Kid gave him a look of disbelief.

“They thought you’d stolen ladies underwear,” Kid reminded him. “Heyes, I’m your partner. Is there’s something I should know…?” Kid was barely containing his laughter.

“It was a case of mistaken identity,” Heyes told him flatly, not rising to the bait.

“What do they think you took Heyes?”

“I didn’t take anything!”

“Heyes,” Kid prompted.

“It wasn’t me…it was that other fella!” Heyes yelled and Kid looked surprised.

“You told them it was me?” Kid asked incredulously.

“No not you…I mean the other, other fella.” Heyes was surprised to find himself somewhat flustered. “The man we saw that looked like me.”

Kid was doing nothing to help. He just raised his eyebrows at his partner, enjoying seeing him embarrassed and for once almost lost for words.

“They thought I…but it was him..he stole her under…well he pushed her over and I was arrested and…” Heyes saw the grin on Kid’s face.

“You were arrested?” Kid’s smile faded for a moment.

“Yeah, that’s why I couldn’t get to you and…then I got dubbed the Petticoat Panther and …” Heyes looked up at his partner. It was hopeless trying to explain. Kid just smiled at him. “Oh c’mon Kid, stop it will ya!”

“Just tell me the truth,” Kid said seriously. “Do they now think Hannibal Heyes is The Petticoat Panther?”

“No, they don’t! I do not steal ladies underwear!” Heyes told him, giving his partner a glare as he left the room, which happened to be, at the same moment that Sister Mary-Elizabeth returned. Seeing the young nun, Heyes blushed, and the door slammed shut behind him. The nun looked startled and turned to look at Kid who was grinning from ear to ear.

***

A few days later, Kid was given the all clear by Doctor Shipley. He would be able to ride as long as he took things easy for a while. Heyes was itching to get going and, when the doctor left after his final examination of Kid, he was soon pacing back and forth at the bottom of Kid’s bed. Kid sat on the edge of the bed, a little tired by all the exercises the doctor had asked him to do. Sister Mary-Elizabeth arrived and placed his freshly laundered clothes on the bed. Kid smiled and thanked her. A man had been sent to deal with the dead horses and collect Kid’s saddle and saddle bags, and he was grateful to have a change of clothes at last.

“I think we should head down to Big Mac’s after we leave tomorrow and see if he has anything for us,” Heyes said as he paced. “If not, I’m sure he’ll let us rest up there for a while. I’ll send a telegram to Lom and we…” Heyes realised his partner was no longer listening to him.

Sister Mary-Elizabeth picked up the empty plate beside Kid’s bed and the blond man smiled at her again. The young cowboy had such nice blue eyes, which were complimented by the pale blue shirt he was wearing. Sister Mary-Elizabeth hoped it was not a sin to have noticed them. She smiled again at Thaddeus, before leaving the room.

“Will you keep your eyes off the nuns?” Heyes told him when they were alone. “I was right. You can’t help yourself. You’d spot a pretty woman a mile off.”

“So nuns are off limits?” Kid asked, feigning shock.

“Of course they’re off limits!” Heyes said, raising his voice more than he intended. “They’re nuns!”

“So you can’t smile at a nun?” Kid asked, innocently.

“Not the way you smile at ‘em!”

Kid smiled wickedly, as he thought about this.

“So a nun wouldn’t appreciate me paying her a compliment?”

“Well I don’t know about that…” Now Heyes felt confused.

“Exactly Heyes, you don’t know. So I’ll just keep on smiling at a pretty woman with or without a habit.”

“Trouble is you make it a habit.” Heyes said and then he smiled at his friend.

“Yeah, well how d’you think they’d feel if they knew the Petticoat Panther was within their walls?” Kid asked him.

“I am not the Petticoat Panther!” Heyes told him, through gritted teeth, but two blue eyes watched him and Kid’s smile contained no malice. “You’re not gonna let that drop are you?” Kid just smiled back and, eventually, Heyes smiled too.

It was good to see Kid back to his old self. The bruising on his face was fading now. He had been walking along the corridors, much to the amusement of the nuns and he was no longer unsteady on his feet. The doctor said he would be okay. Remembering, his first sight of Kid lying in this room several days ago, Heyes felt the relief wash over him. There had been a moment when he thought…

Kid met his partner’s eyes suddenly concerned.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” the dark-haired man assured him with a smile. “You know Kid, it’s a good job we’re leaving here tomorrow. You fix those blue eyes on too many of the nuns and you could end up corrupting an entire convent! I don’t think even the Governor could get us an amnesty for that.”

Kid smiled innocently at his partner, enjoying the thought.

THE END

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